Archive for the ‘Imaginarius Updates’ Category

State Of The Art-s-s-s: When Is ‘Perfect’ The Enemy Of Good Enough’?

July 1, 2018

 

This week, I attended a Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators business meeting on the techniques of digital illustration.The presenters were several of my fellow illustrators, each specializing in a different area of our industry; editorial, technical, and medical illustration. I couldn’t help but be impressed with their talent, tech savvy and sense of adventure as they demonstrated many of the new digital devices and techniques available to us illustrators. Still, the evening had awakened the old beast of doubt in me, turning up the volume on many issues, even considering my long freelance illustration career. 

I’ve been working ‘tra-digitally’ (a blend of traditional drawing/painting with digital enhancement) for a number of years but came to this approach slowly as I grew more familiar with design software and accepted its promise of production efficiency. What I couldn’t anticipate was the seductiveness of a process that, like coffee, has since become a daily necessity for me as I produce assignment work for clients and publish my own books.

In fact, my use of digital techniques seems to be overriding my love for the unpredictable results and sensual feel of pen, pencil and/or watercolor on paper. Moreover, for better or worse, it has changed the way I think about and ultimately set down an image before declaring it finished.

Though I’ve become accustomed to exercising the endless options of digital ‘tweak-ability’, I now understand that these very options have caused a breach in my self-confidence when I must revert to drawing an image on paper for purposes other than print reproduction such as commissioned portrait.

Where once I was easily satisfied by the look and feel of my early creative efforts, I now automatically examine my work for ‘irregularities or imperfections’ that can be ‘fixed’ with Photoshop instead of appreciating those expressions for what they are; manifestations of my imperfect human creativity. With that thought, the question in the title of this essay, (‘when is ‘perfect’ the enemy of good enough’?) comes into play. Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide when an image is finished, the simple answer is ‘always’.  

I’ve often wondered whether working this way causes me to overthink my work, questioning its ‘rightness’ even as I embellish it with seemingly relevant images and stylistic details to the point where its core story or idea is obscured.

At such times, when I become obsessed with locating just the ‘right’ reference image or am impatient with the complexity of creating or digitally editing an illustration for print, those who have known me and my work for many years often remind me that I actually seemed more efficient when I produced my art traditionally from my imagination without the aid of digital software. They are probably right.  

With assignment work, I must consider my client’s requests concerning an illustration’s political and/or social ramifications. This often leads to extensive editing or discarding the image altogether. If I choose to retain the image, it sometimes has to be stripped down to its simplest form to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. This always precludes it from revealing the marks of my thinking/working process. Additionally, I am required to design and size my images so they may be set within a pre-determined space.

Certainly I’ve had to adapt to the tenets of graphic design which embraces the elegant expression of visual splash or memes as powerful as a Twitter ‘tweet’ for instant consumption as opposed to the detailed storytelling subtleties expected of traditional illustration. Is this a good thing? I’m not entirely sure. Yes, it forces the eye and mind to focus on the ‘message’ but perhaps something of its original concept’s character and intent has been lost in translation. 

I have to admit that I do enjoy a major benefit of digitally preparing my illustrations; it grants me more control over my finished printed product as opposed to the old mechanical methods where I had to depend on others for my desired outcome.

Although the new products are now able to simulate every known drawing and painting technique and have enabled me to become a ‘one-stop design shop, I still have questions. If I go totally digital with my art, will I be able to shed my prejudice against creating images on a glass surface that is less sensually direct than paper or canvas? And, should it matter anymore whether I no longer have a frame-able, completely ‘original’ work of art as ‘evidence’ of my efforts? 

One presenter at the meeting proudly proclaimed that he’d fully embraced digital illustration and had ‘gotten over’ his need for original tangible art products. Having appreciated the beauty and intense craftsmanship of his original works, I could, from a pragmatic standpoint, understand why he might have felt that way.

Corporate art collections have diminished over the last few decades while museums and most galleries rarely offer highly promoted exhibits to lesser known artists, preferring to host more profitable exhibits by either box office name artists or long-dead old masters.

In addition, many galleries have upped sales commissions to sometimes more than 50%. The internet has also become a formidable rival to brick and mortar exhibit spaces. It offers an enormous marketplace with affordable entry fees that is overwhelmingly democratic for all creators. So we don’t really depend on exposure through museums and galleries anymore for our livelihood. For this reason, I don’t even carry around a weighty portfolio when I can post my work to potential clients and collectors on social media.

Historically, the disciplines of illustration and graphic design have worked together for both print and digital media. Now, I suspect that the internet (beneficial to our business as it is) is also a great disrupter. With its endless cacophony of sensational news, information, music and images it has of necessity rendered graphic design the dominant force over illustration in order to accommodate our tragically dwindling attention span and capacity for remembering things. 

From this perspective, I suppose I should be discouraged from pursuing my craft in the manner I’ve been trained to do; creating illustrations that intrigue the eye and mind on multiple levels with traditional materials. Of course I can still make intricate images with digital assist but they will appear obscure beside the flashy visual memes that are our current brain candy.

It’s been said that great art reflects the era in which it was made, yet the artist in me refuses to cave. My illustrations and drawings will inevitably emerge as they must because of the question that nips at my conscience; will today’s visual flash preserve and continue to tell future generations the myriad complex stories of who and what we once were or will they require an entire field of scholarship to create a new Rosetta Stone? 

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The Incredible Slowness of Patience

August 22, 2017

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As I worked to complete the final drawings and haiku for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation, I learned about Tim Pearce, Ph.D, the Assistant Curator of Molluscs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, here in Pittsburgh. When I contacted this walking encyclopedia of snail facts and lore, I was pleasantly surprised at his accessibility and eagerness to talk about the intricacies and nature of his favorite subjects. When I told him of my book in progress, we made arrangements to meet at his department for a private tour of the museum’s vast holdings of snails, shells, and other obscure, mysterious forms of life beneath the seas.

Here is a photo of the Snail Man himself wearing his favorite hat!

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And what a collection! Giant conch shells once used as trumpets by ancient island tribes to gather their people for special events or war:

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many varieties of cone shells that had contained carnivorous snails who project a tiny dart from their bodies that are loaded with a compound containing 50+ different toxic chemicals! Their shells are very attractive but don’t get too close,  Mr. Pearce warned.

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We think of snails as carrying their own houses, but this chitons’ shell reminded me of a knight’s armor or shield!

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Their names are a mouthful to pronounce but these Xenophoridae or carrier shells are worth a closer look for their ability to disguise themselves in the deep seas against predators by secreting a sticky substance which they use to glue many abandoned shells to themselves as camouflage! Below is the Xenophoridae spread from Codex Gastropoda which I’ve envisioned as a gathering place for a summit of snails:

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Finally, I was introduced to Tony (i), a snail whose name Tim spells with both an ‘i’ and a ‘y’ because this tiny creature is an hermaphrodite; it hosts both male and female gender characteristics. If you can be patient for the three minutes it takes for this little video clip, you can see tiny Tony (i) emerging from his/her shell! Just click on this link to view the video:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/7spialg7hn0fj8b/TimPearceSnail-Trimmed.mov?dl=0

I have a small edition of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation (Imaginarius Editions, 2017) available for preview and purchase with credit card or Paypal for $30.00 at my Magic Eye Galleryhttp://bit.ly/2vzsSTM or at my Etsy shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

You may find that the images and haiku that comprise Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation are a fine antidote to turbulent times like ours for they encourage us to patiently look, listen and THINK beyond the obvious…

 

Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation

July 26, 2017

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You know the old adage, “Time passes quickly when you’re having fun” ? Well, this sentiment truly described the years between 2007 and the present when I began thinking about snails. Now, why on earth would anyone care about snails except as a purportedly (I say ‘purportedly’ because these creatures are among those forbidden to me by religious doctrine) tasty dish served with garlic butter?  Because I actually find them fascinating since I am able to look at them objectively for their natural beauty and metaphoric value without planning how to cook them.

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These musings slowly inspired a series of eighteen drawings on several species of snail (a.k.a mollusca/gastropoda). Some of them appeared along with my thoughts/poems about them over those years in several blog posts here.* Later, during this project’s development, a friend loaned me an eye-opening book that proved very inspiring and that I now recommend to you: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey (2010). http://amzn.to/2w18Zpc

My drawings are not strictly scientific but an amalgam of fact and fancy. Each tells its own story, inviting questions and second glances. At first, not knowing whether these drawings should become a book or simply a portfolio collection, I put out a query on social media.  Though enthusiastic early feedback suggested a book, I still liked the idea of a portfolio collection and decided to publish a ‘bookfolio’ (a portfolio in book form) as a sort of compromise.

In this light, I considered writing more thought/poems like those in earlier posts. However, I soon determined that haiku (seventeen-syllable non-rhyming Japanese poems), with their economy of language would better complement the nature of my drawings.  Slyme-TextGrid-8x10.jpg

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Now, I am happy to announce the release of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation. This 44-page ‘bookfolio‘ includes an introduction and has just been released from Imaginarius Editions in an initial small press run.

You can preview and purchase it (US$30) at my online gallery: http://bit.ly/2vzsSTM

Codex Gastropoda will soon be available at Amazon but for now you can also find it at my Etsy Shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

Given the experiences that inspired it, my goal for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation became to raise awareness of the wondrous details that inform Creation and their consequences for our world. I hope this visual journey and spare prose will also inspire you to appreciate our complex existence and perhaps add your own words and ideas to the continuum of human creativity.  

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* https://wordpress.com/post/imaginarius13.wordpress.com/754 https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-snail-queens-soliloquy/  

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/postscript-for-the-new-year-a-divination-of-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/codex-gastropoda-4athe-time-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/codex-gastropoda-2-the-snails-song/ 

The Art Of Facts|Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories

July 18, 2017

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One of the high points in my long illustration career has been my involvement with the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators since its inception in 1997. Beginning with a handful of us sharing drinks and professional experiences at neighborhood bars and restaurants, we have grown in membership and reputation to become the second largest illustration society in the U.S!

Now, in celebration of our 20th Anniversary, we are mounting a major exhibition, Art Of Facts|Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories at the Senator John Heinz History Center ( a Smithsonian affiliate) in Pittsburgh’s famed Strip District. The show features original artworks and prints by 40 of our illustrators that highlight little known facts and stories from the histories of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. It will also offer lectures and workshops to provide information about the works in the show and the profession of illustration. Opening July 22nd, 2017, Art Of Facts runs through January of 2018. 

Though we have received some financial assistance, the costs of mounting and maintaining an exhibit of this scope remain considerable. Accordingly, we have posted a Kickstarter campaign that will run through August 17th, 2017 to raise funds for producing a high-quality, full-color, 120 page catalog that will include reproductions of each work in the show along with bios and statements of each illustrator.  Please visit our campaign site to learn more, receive updates and help make this exhibit the exciting success it was meant to be! 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/art-of-facts-uncovering-pittsburgh-stories 

Note: Kickstarter will NOT charge your credit card unless we meet our $5,000 goal, so ALL contributions are greatly appreciated! If the campaign is successful, you will receive some lovely rewards!

I look forward to your questions and comments here and at the our Kickstarter campaign page!

Above: Babalosha Temujin Ekunfeo, Pittsburgh African Storyteller (one of my three illustrations for Art Of Facts|Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories)

Practical Matters: Illustration As Product?

March 14, 2017

In July of 2010, well into the consequences of the 2008 economic collapse, I posted two consecutive essays* that explored illustration-related issues. One questioned the relevance of the illustration industry in the face of  those changes with many print and advertising venues giving way to online presences. Along with the ascendance of gallery and aggregate stock image/portfolio sites, my agent at the time decided to branch out into the product licensing marketplace with a plan to enhance her own fortunes with those of the illustrators in her stable. So the other essay** mused on whether such a ‘marriage’ could prevail.

In short, despite working intensely on many collections of designs for product applications and attempting to understand the mechanizations of the licensing industry, the enterprise was not entirely successful for me. However, the experience did force me to realize two things: my own naïvete in that area and the fact that individual artists stand little chance in the marketplace against corporate licensing giants like Disney, Mattel or Starbucks. To wit, I was told at an international trade show by a licensing agent that although he loved my work, he would not even consider doing business with me until my ‘brand’ had generated several hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Huh. What a classic chicken and egg situation!

Though my agent and I have since parted ways, I still believed in the integrity and originality of my work and thought that one day I might try again to generate life for my images beyond paper and print. I knew that for me, full retirement was not an option ( and that after a long freelance illustration career, I still had the drive to create new things. I also knew that age-wise, holding a full-time job was also not an option. Therefore, I had to find a way to generate income from my work. To that end, I embarked on a new venture: I decided to write, illustrate and publish my own books***. This is an ongoing activity that I think will always inform my work.

Today, in 2017, we are facing other issues regarding the ever-expanding online opportunities with their associated intellectual property concerns and the difficult challenge of attracting as many eyeballs as possible amidst the unbelievably vast competition out there. Much as I had held to the notion that licensing my images would compromise my artistic integrity by ‘selling out’ to commercial interests, I now see that to some extent, becoming business savvy is necessary to economic survival. It requires that we understand the strategies of these new corporate giants. They operate primarily by advertising revenue and tempting artists to post their images for ‘free’ with the future promise of a tiny percentage of market share if and when their images applied to products achieve any sales. Like any business adventure, it is risky, both to creators and site owners. But in my opinion, the greater risk is assumed by creators who opt for compromising their intellectual  properties and code of trust when dealing with a business partner simply because we are not directly privy to their accounting practices.

Still, the old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” often drives participation in new ventures. This is especially tantalizing in an era where the possibility of becoming internationally known for one’s work is but a few keystrokes and/or a credit card away.

However,  as the ‘Practical Matters’ portion of this essay’s title suggests, I have made every effort to copyright and /or trademark (as appropriate) any design I’ve released for commercial use. Though some expense may be involved, the urgency of these efforts cannot be overstated. Through my activities on the boards of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators and the American Society of Illustrators Partnerships I have become aware that under the current administration, the copyright environment in Washington DC is undergoing some far-reaching changes in favor of privatization of the copyright office. These changes will allow them to more broadly define the concept of public domain; a development that ultimately will not be friendly to creators. With the very dodgy security of the web, it’s now trivial to grab images from sites with impunity. It follows that using these images for profit comes with little consequence to the infringer. Protecting your intellectual property is essential as there have been cases where artists engaging in lawsuits against unethical corporations or individuals to reclaim their intellectual properties have taken considerable financial hits in the process. Though not an encouraging circumstance, it is a cautionary one.

Yet despite the potential pitfalls, the artistic spirit continues to be indomitable since most of us live on hope. In that light, with copyrights in place, I decided to reboot my licensing efforts when an illustrator colleague raised my awareness of a some potentially promising opportunities. I have since sold many designs for greeting cards at Greeting Card Universe ( http://bit.ly/2mWRXXI), have a t-shirt available at my Magic Eye Gallery (http://bit.ly/2mp1XW5and am now engaged at Society6 (https://society6.com/imaginarius13) with twenty unique collections of designs for an array of personal and home products. Whether this will all work out, I can’t know, but one thing is certain; if you understand the risks and throw enough effort at the wall, something’s bound to stick!

Here are a few selections from the Imaginarius Shop at Society6:

Alchymy Collection: Firebird Wall Tapestry                                                                                                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  Cluckfosters’ Step Out Collection: Clock

Sea Swans Collection: Shower Curtain with Towels & Bathmat

Sushi AlaCarte Collection: Allover Print T-Shirt

Alchymy Collection: Elementals Duvet Cover & Comforter

Salisbury Tiles Collection: Throw Pillow & Leggings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tudor Vines Collection: Duvet Cover, Comforter, Throw Pillow, ToteBag, iPhoneCover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/practical-matters-is-illustration-still-relevant/

**https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/practical-matters-2-to-license-or-not-to-license/

***http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=8 (see all books under pull-down ‘Book’ menu)

The Un-Wronging Of Handwriting

January 23, 2017

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Pendemonium: An Original Alphabet ©2017 Ilene Winn-Lederer


Once upon a time
, whatever news appeared in print or was presented by television or radio newscasters was taken as the veritable truth. It was disseminated and acted upon as if it personally affected everyone in this country, which of course it did in varying degree.
The news, which is an acronym for ‘north, south, east, west’ was a force that galvanized and united us in our quest to uphold our national identity and position of strength and democracy in the world.bostonraremaps-globe

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In these deeply unsettling times, politicians and pundits air their hopes, grievances and manifestos with ever coarser, less articulate language, often distorting truths and provoking our knee-jerk emotional responses rather than inspiring our better natures and actions.

But tempting as it is, I’m not going to rant here about the plague of fake news that has gone viral so to speak. Enough ink (traditional and digital) has been devoted to it to satisfy every news glutton and social media addict. Instead, I’ve been thinking about how our written and spoken communication has dramatically eroded in the last few decades and why that is so. 

Historically, the erosion began as the telephone gradually replaced the need to write letters and notes to friends, colleagues and relatives in favor of quicker responses. Now, unsurprisingly, the most obvious symptoms of the decay of communication are found in text messaging and spoken media. Texting encourages immediate gratification though its efficiency is often characterized by lack of punctuation and fragmented sentences. With the ability to ‘text’ attachments, it is also replacing email as well. In spoken media, soundbites have become the takeaway from our information sources, relieving us of the personal responsibility for closer analysis and comprehension of what we are told. And as we viralize those more easily digestible soundbites, we dilute the true value of reasoned public discourse. 

Though I don’t see any of these communication lifestyles changing any time soon, we might be overlooking a possible way to keep them in perspective; by reclaiming our abilities to communicate in writing and emphasizing the importance of teaching those skills to our children.

In my post of May 5, 2013, ‘The Demise Of Handwriting’,I responded to a New York Times article that questioned the value of teaching classical cursive handwriting to schoolchildren in an era when easily accessible technology has mostly rendered it a vestigial skill.

I now realize that the desire of some in the education industry to end the once compulsory teaching of well-crafted handwriting has only exacerbated the downward spiral of quality in our written and verbal communication. The beauty, details and nuances of language, qualities that once defined great writing and oratory, are greatly in danger of becoming cultural artifacts. This is not to say that the revival of handwriting in our education system will cure the metastasizing mediocrity in communication. Still, doing so might reduce our dependence on word processing tools such as auto-correct software and re-instill the importance of careful thought and craftsmanship in self-expression, thereby helping the restoration of self-confidence in our contributions to that public discourse. 

This notion is evident to me each day as I read the newspaper. I am frequently and unpleasantly distracted by numerous spelling and grammatical errors throughout the texts. Books exhibit the same lack of craftsmanship with multiple errors in texts or within indexes to those texts when I am directed to an incorrect location of a specific topic or page. Even as I question how mainstream publishers, who have traditionally employed a staff of professional editors and proofreaders, could allow such carelessness to pass unnoticed into the public eye, I am aware that from a practical and financial perspective, automation technology has relieved publishers of the need to hire them. Nevertheless, given the current imperfect state of artificial intelligence, this development can easily result in an inferior product. As an author with books published both in the mainstream publishing industry and the growing  on-demand publishing market, I’ve noticed the growing emphasis on quick profit before quality and when preparing books for the latter, I must remind myself to very carefully edit my own manuscripts for errors before submission and printing. 

So, for those of us that bemoan the deterioration of our own handwriting, I would like this post to be a reminder that it’s not too late to refresh and restore those skills.ilenealphabet-copy Getting started may be as simple as forming letters of the alphabet as a telephone doodle, penning the few lines of a thank you note for a gift you received or to the host/hostess of a social event you attended. When you begin, don’t worry about your initial efforts being judged on the calligraphic quality of what you write. With practice this will improve.  Instead, focus on its clarity and intent because ultimately that scrap of paper, not the mercurial texts or e-mails on your digital device, will be evidence of who you are. Or, in future, of who you were.

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/the-demise-of-handwriting/

*Map shown above is a Mnemonical Globe/Wm. Stokes,1879 (Boston Rare Maps: http://bostonraremaps.com/inventory/a-capital-globe-indeed/)

Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie

October 27, 2016

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In an essay entitled ‘On The Shoulders Of Giants’, posted on May 5th of this year, I offered a glimpse of my new alphabetical book project in progress. Today, I am pleased to let you know that it is now complete! It includes alliterative text and illustrations for each of twenty-six letters, a preface and artist’s notes. On Wednesday of this week, my book proof arrived looking exactly as I’d intended, so I turned around and ordered  my first small edition of twelve, scheduled for delivery early next week. I am accepting advance orders now at The Magic Eye Gallery: http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=8 

Here are some thoughts on my process and a bit of backstory:

Ideas are mercurial; they may appear to our imaginations in glorious finished form, awaiting physical birth or, more likely, just float by our consciousness, merely hinting at their potential. The idea for Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie simmered slowly on one of my back burners for several years as sketches and project notes in one of my journals. It had begun as a casual suggestion for an illustrated alphabet book from my former agent. Projects like this one can be very greedy with one’s time and generally do not pay the bills! So although I had done a few concept drawings at the time, other less speculative projects continued to demand my attention.

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Then, late in 2015, following publication of two other titles (An Illumination Of Blessings and Notes From London: Above & Below), I decided to revisit the alphabet book idea. Paging through that old journal, I paused at some drawings of a unicorn and an armadillo which led me to imagine an alphabet book built around the real and imaginary creatures that have been portrayed in illuminated manuscripts for centuries. These colorful hybrids of letterforms and fanciful illustrations first appeared in the 2nd century Greek Physiologus, a compilation of the ancient wisdom and symbolism of animals mentioned in the writings of naturalists such as Aristotle, Herodotus and Pliny The Elder. Later adaptations from the 11th-13th centuries elaborated on these bestiaries and were flavored with Biblical stories, mysticism and religious doctrine. Bestiaries reached their zenith during the medieval era, when artists were commissioned by nobility and wealthy merchants to interpret their naïve descriptions of strange creatures seen on their voyages to exotic lands. Wikipedia offers a fine, detailed history of bestiaries here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestiary

Eventually, my journal sketches became the basis of the finished illustrations below:ArmorOnAnArmadillo-FINAL.jpgunicornwithuniverseunderumbrella-final

Yet, despite our greatly evolved knowledge of zoology since then, why does this timeless literary art form remain popular among the offerings of contemporary publishers? I propose that it does so because we have yet to fully understand the synthesis of our own evolving animal natures with the gifts of speech, writing and acumen.

That said, I’ve always loved to draw animals and have featured them in many original works of art. However, most of my animals are not portrayed realistically; I prefer to imbue them with qualities that reflect our human fortes and foibles. Those bestiary illustrations in which the animals display such attributes were important inspirations for this book. Their titles along with illustrated excerpts were discussed in my previous essay (http://bit.ly/2fjVcpi).

In designing Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie, I’ve framed each illustration with an alphabetical alliteration both for organizational purposes and simply because it was great fun to do! My hope is that my efforts will complement the voluminous body of bestiaries throughout history that are tributes to the wonders of creation and to our human imagination…

 

Thinking Outside The Lines…

October 7, 2016

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A few months ago, I began following posts (and occasionally commenting) at a Facebook forum called ‘Forgotten Art Supplies’. I became intrigued because while much of my work now relies on digital tooIs, I had used many of the required traditional tools mentioned there for drawing and preparing my illustrations for reproduction during my career as an illustrator and designer.

Last week, however, I was about to respond to a post by Donald Simpson, a well-known cartoonist but decided that his plaintive concern was worth a more substantive response.

This is what he said: “What I find disturbing is the trend toward coloring books and coloring stations — they are everywhere in the college campus {where} I teach, but no drawing classes! Sad.”

Based on my own history and observations, I have to agree with Mr. Simpson to a point; but this scenario may not be as dark as it seems.

As a young child, my parents noticed my passion and ability to draw and casually encouraged me to continue doing so. However, when birthdays and other occasions rolled around, coloring books and boxes of Crayolas were always among the gifts I received. I never had trouble coloring within the lines, but soon became bored with confining my abilities to them; until I reached the age of seven and began to receive coloring books that provided thin paper between each spread. These allowed me to trace the images and perhaps add my own arbitrary enhancements. I sometimes tore out these sheets and traced illustrations from my favorite picture books like the classic Grimm tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, beautifully illustrated in 1954 by Sheilah Beckett:

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This experience enhanced my enjoyment of the masterful works of others and though such features were an improvement in coloring books, I eventually lost interest when I realized my preference was for inventing and coloring images that I had created, an understanding that led me to become an illustrator.

Given the many comments I’ve heard over the years from those who bemoan a lack of artistic skills (‘I can’t even draw a straight line…’), I am not surprised that the need for adult coloring books has been recognized. A dazzling array of these have become ubiquitous in gift shops, the few remaining bookstores, even supermarkets and big box stores, not to mention everywhere online. Says a lot about the power of marketing, social media and profitability for publishers and creators. Here’s more on that from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-adults-are-buying-coloring-books-for-themselves

Nevertheless, I don’t have a problem with coloring books per se or the profits they generate. Some of them are beautifully drawn and intricate such as those featuring Buddhist mandalas, optical illusions,  plants and animals or one with a Pittsburgh theme done by my friend and former CMU student, illustrator Rick Antolic. While they provide a therapeutic outlet and/or a much needed esthetic experience for many, they may also heighten appreciation for the talent and skills needed to create them.

Cover artImage result for adult coloring booksImage result for adult coloring booksPittsburgh: A Coloring Book

But like Mr. Simpson, I feel that the proliferation of adult coloring books underscores the need for more basic drawing skills to be offered in schools from K through college.

Though the ‘arts’ receive a modicum of funding from federal and private sources, those monies are more often directed at acquiring audio visual materials, computers and assorted electronic devices to be used for creative purposes. Tablets, 3-D printers and areas set aside for making things are a hot trend in schools right now. All of the above are fine. Still, passively watching videos often just fills classroom time unless follow-up interactive discussions or related project assignments that encourage personal exploration and experimentation are included. On that note, learning to master digital devices and the apps that empower them requires much more than navigating a mouse or keyboard.

Without learning to develop and challenge manual drawing skills to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the work  of masters through history, it is my opinion that students are inhibited from acquiring the inspiration necessary to express concepts, let alone create viable content so that art can continue to fulfill its purpose; to shed light on the time in which it is made and introduce new ideas for cultural understanding and growth.

Yet, how often do we hear of classes solely devoted to teaching young students classical academic drawing, painting, or sculptural skills? At the university level, catalogues from these institutions may typically offer art classes, even BA/MFA degrees, but many would-be artists can easily be discouraged by the implied emphasis on more hard core studies in math, science and technology that strongly suggest following careers in these fields rather than in the liberal arts. Having taught illustration in a university environment, I learned how difficult it would be to overcome this prejudice, yet happily a handful of my profoundly talented students prevailed and became quite successful illustrators.

In retrospect and with some irony, I understand that perhaps coloring books were created to teach and aid the development of manual skills in children but they do so with the risk of making their users dependent upon the visual structures and cues of others rather than encouraging them to mine their own imaginations.

All of the above said, I believe that by underestimating the importance of our desire and ability to make art, our society has discouraged development of a gift through which we can define and express our humanity.

Tangentially, I would imagine this idea as the raison d’être that motivates the prolific art of grafitti and the public intolerance of it.

What has happened in the course of time is that other forms of communication have largely conquered our need to express ourselves visually. The line that once flowed freely from our young hands to form images has been, according to French artist & filmmaker Jean Cocteau, ‘untied and re-tied in a different fashion’ to enable multilingual universal communication with words.

And therein lies the subtle promise of the current assortment of coloring books for their users. For those who may have forgotten how to reverse that process and unlock their flexible line, they can inspire us once again to tell meaningful stories without words.

On The Shoulders of Giants…

May 5, 2016

Imagination, though we all possess it, is usually perceived as the defining quality and exclusive territory of creative individuals, particularly when we marvel at the art, music, literature, science and philosophy it inspires. But the analyst Carl Jung may have been onto something with his theories of our ‘collective unconscious’ which he claimed is the vast, virtual repository of all human thought, endeavor and possibility. In that light, imagination may be the ‘tool’ within all of us for unlocking virtual doors into this realm; enabling us to discover more about who we are and what we are capable of but also to teach us humility as we begin to comprehend all that came before us.

This engraving by the French writer and astronomer Nicholas Flammarion for his 1888 book, L’Atmosphère : Météorologie Populaire seems an apt illustration of the above comments:

A recent TED talk* on the theme of originality validated my instinctive understanding that originality is less about magic than it is about the speed and extent to which we are able to access and use our imaginations productively. With dedicated observation, listening and the use of our senses, aided by technology, we discover that the majority of human accomplishments are the results of ‘sampling’. They are based in sum or in part on the works of others.

Both the 12th century philosopher Bernard of Chartres and 17th century polymath Isaac Newton understood the concept of building on previous discoveries or ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ in order to uncover their own truths. Accordingly, relatively little of what we have produced can be called ‘original’ by the strictest definition of the word.

So even though I always feel slightly uncomfortable creating a piece of art knowing that other versions of it already exist in different forms elsewhere, I usually persist in finishing the piece simply because I wish to contribute to that body of work in my own way. The theme might not be unique, but perhaps my rendering of it might be.

These thoughts are now driving my current drawing project, an alphabetical bestiary. Yes, bestiaries have been around for hundreds of years as have alphabet books; so this idea is far from original. Examples below are from the Aberdeen Bestiary(1200AD), the Tudor Bestiary (1520AD), ‘Adam Naming The Animals‘ from the Northumberland Bestiary(1250-1260AD), Jungle-Jangle by Peter Newell(1909)and from the 1968 Bestiario Moderno by Domenico Gnoli.

Phoenix-AberdeenBestiary.jpg"Jungle Jangle" - Lion - Peter Newell, New York: Harper, 1909.: Detail from 'Rinocerante al XV piano,' pen & ink drawing by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.

Yet the myriad artistic and imaginative combinations of letterforms and animals (both real and imagined)** continue to fascinate us. Could the mystery of our own animal natures combined with our gifts of speech, writing and comprehension be the reason? Maybe it’s a mystery best left unsolved giving us all the more reason to enjoy new additions to the rich body of works that ask the same question but answer it in their own ways.

Here are two pages from my own imaginary menagerie that I hope you will enjoy. To date, I have completed 11 of 26 letters so your comments, questions and suggestions for other letters are welcome!

FarthingaleOnAFerretRGB.jpgGryphonWithAGrimoire.jpg*http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/321797073/what-is-original

 

A Left-Leaning Quandary

February 15, 2016

AnythingLeft-Handed.jpgWhen we come into this world, we are an enigma, unaccompanied by an external users manual but driven primarily by need and instinct. But if we imagine that a users’ manual  is embedded within us as a script which guides us through the roles we play in each phase of our lives, we soon learn its limitations. It may open our awareness of the world relative to our physical and emotional development but if we are to surmount the obstructions that occasionally beset us in our relationships, careers and our own physical/psychological health then we must work to interpret the nuances between its lines.

This week, following the surgical repair of my right rotator cuff, I sit here, with said arm in a sling, thinking about how, when we are in good health, we easily assume that our bodies exist to serve the requests and desires of our minds; quietly and without complaint.

Yet when we encounter illness or injury to our bodies, the inverse dominates our days and nights. Like a willful child, my mind desperately wants to leave the confines of this injured body, inhabit another one like a change of clothing, thus enabled to resume the life it has long known.

In my current state, the mix of patience and impatience of my spouse as he tends to my needs in addition to his own has only emphasized these ideas. Though many crises, large and small have punctuated the course of our long marriage, these have only served to focus my awareness and gratitude for his love and dedication.

Though I write and draw with my left hand, I am right-hand dominant for most other actions, particularly the digital aspect of my illustration. Consequently, my work will be fairly difficult over the next few months but physical therapy should eventually make a difference. Until then, an illustration from my recent book, Notes From London: Above & Below (Imaginarius Editions, 2015)*, shown above, and a detail from ‘Worlds Within(Codex Gastropoda series, 2012) shown below,  seem apropos at the moment..

So, even as my left hand and arm are doing double duty with no little complaint, I am imagining the new drawings and essays to come upon full recovery. I’ve posted these observations as encouragement to any of you who might be experiencing a similar situation and simply because I am unaccustomed to being completely idle. The latter is probably a directive from my own internal users’ manual which may look like this:AntiqueBookClosed+HandClasps

Further interpreting its nuances also reveals a new perspective on the trajectory of my own life. Though each incident that occurs seems discrete, it is not. Rather, it is only one of the links forming a sort of tight rope that resonates with the music of uncertainty, fear, challenge, sorrow, love and joy.  Accordingly, I must continually balance my roles as daughter, wife, mother, artist, illustrator, writer, teacher and designer in order to create and maintain the lyrical narrative that keeps my eyes open to the myriad possibilities ahead…

*Notes From London: Above & Below (Imaginarius Editions, 2015) may be ordered at: http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=3