Posts Tagged ‘Illustration’

January 20, 2021

It was Sunday, 6:30 P.M. Irving Zitkin, hamburger and cookie eater, sat at the dinner table staring at his vegetables, hoping they would disappear. Then he made a face; only for a second, but long enough for Mrs. Zitkin to see.

Violet Zitkin, mother, housewife and saint, frowned and sighed helplessly. “Darling,” she purred, “Please eat your vegetables. Don’t you want to grow strong, healthy and handsome like your father?” Harold Zitkin beamed from behind his newspaper.

She reminded Irving how lucky he was to have a mother who cared about what he ate. “How about eating just a little bit?” she persisted. “Vegetables are so-o- good for you!” Irving shook his head defiantly.

“That’s it!” Violet muttered between clamped teeth, “Harold!”

Harold Zitkin, father, local greengrocer and diplomat slowly lowered his Garden Variety Journal. He also loved his son but preferred peace at the dinner table. “Irving,” Harold offered reasonably, “How do you know you won’t like them unless you try?” The stubborn seven-year old looked to the ceiling for support.

“I mean, aren’t you even curious to know what they taste like?” his father went on. “Nope.” Irving pouted. “They look disgusting. My tongue might shrivel and fall off!”

“Well, son; vegetables are not there just to decorate your plate,” Harold said sternly, shaking a stringbean shaped finger at Irving. “So stop this funny business and eat your vegetables! NOW!”

Irving smirked and proceeded to push the vegetables around his plate. He arranged his peas, corn, diced carrots and broccoli so they spelled out his name.

“I’d really rather have another hamburger instead of these stupid vegetables,” Irving shrugged indifferently, still testing his mother’s patience. “Irving!” Violet Zitkin begged.“Please!” Suddenly, Irving decided he’d had enough nagging.

Jumping up, he shoved back his chair and headed for the garbage can, plate in hand. The Zitkins watched in shock as their son savagely dumped his vegetables into the trash, shouting, “That’s it! I’m never going to eat these yucky things for anybody again!” Tossing his plate (fortunately it was plastic) into the sink, he turned to face his parents with an innocent smile. “So what’s for dessert?” he cooed, eyeing the plate of chocolate chip cookies on the counter.

Quickly recovering their wits, the Zitkins glared at their son. “Dessert? We don’t THINK so, young man.” they grumbled in unison. Disappointed and still hungry, Irving stomped upstairs and slammed his door. It was going to be a long night.

Kicking his way through piles of books and toys, Irving plopped onto his bed. “Well, I’ll just sneak down to the kitchen later and snag some of those cookies,” he vowed, giving in to a loud yawn. Soon however, his eyelids slid to half-mast, sinking fast. He didn’t see the dim bulb above his head flicker nor did he feel his bed lurch gently from side to side as the walls of his room slowly faded away…

Awakened by soft breezes under a sunny green sky, Irving lay perfectly still and frowned, trying to figure out where he was. He reached a tentative hand towards the floor. It came up covered in some spicy, slimy stuff. “E-e-u-uw!” Irving gagged. Then he saw it. Out of the corner of his eye, a huge orange thing with green hair and strange root-like hands had sidled up to his bed. Terrified, Irving dived under his quilt. “Ma-a-a!” he wailed. No answer; just a dry, crunchy chuckle. “Good Morning, Irving Zitkin. said the huge orange thing. “We were wondering when you’d get here.”

“Here?” Irving squeaked, dropping his quilt. “Where is here? And what are you?”

“Why, you’ve arrived at the Garden of Eating, you silly boy! Welcome to the first course! “I am Corporal Carotte.” The orange thing introduced himself with a stiff bow. “Follow me, if you please!”

Suddenly Irving realized he was talking to a giant carrot! He shut his eyes, muttering, “This isn’t happening…”

“Oh, yes, it is,” asserted the Corporal cheerfully. “King Bountiful has been expecting you.”

Irving crawled out of his bed, stepping gingerly through the slimy salad dressing. “What does King Bountiful want with me?” he huffed, hurrying to keep up with his guide.

As they bounced through leafy green valleys, and waded through haystacks of shredded cheese., the Corporal sneered, “Well, my boy, it seems His Royal Vegginess is not thrilled with your treatment of his loyal subjects. You see, we VeggieBeasts pride ourselves on our roles in maintaining the health of you ‘carnivorous types’ and we don’t take kindly to being wasted!”

As they descended a hill of croutons, Irving gaped at the panorama ahead. Rolling, bouncing and slithering towards them were an army of giant vegetables! He saw retinues of radishes, bunches of brazen broccoli, swarms of sentient squash, and throngs of tumbling tomatoes. They seemed to come from everywhere! Then Irving noticed the enormous potato creature marching towards them on his fat, gnarled roots.

King Bountiful, dressed in robes of ridicchio and romaine lettuce was crowned with a cornucopia of tiny vegetables. As he marched, His Royal Vegginess pointed an ornate rhubarb scepter in Irving’s direction!

“Ah, here he comes now. It looks like he means to teach you a lesson!” said the Corporal with a sinister smile. “I’d mind my manners, if I were you.” The huge carrot bowed low until his fuzzy head greens swept the ground.

All at once, Irving understood. The King and his VeggieBeasts were going to get him for trashing his salad! They might even boil him in oil and vinegar! Desperately, young Zitkin tried to remember the way back to his bed as the ground began to shake! The VeggieBeasts were hot on his trail! With a frantic screech, Irving made a mad dash for anywhere but here! He’d better eat his vegetables before they ate him!

At that moment he found himself back in his bed. “Yow, what a dream!” Irving sighed with relief. Then he smelled something suspicious. Turning over, Irving faced a steaming plate of vegetables left on his nightstand by his loving mother. He stared at them in annoyance and considered trashing them for a second time that evening.

Suddenly he heard someone shuffling up the steps to his room. “UH-oh!” Irving gasped, remembering King Bountiful and the VeggieBeasts. “I’d better not take any chances!” Frantically, he held his nose and shoveled spoonfuls of carrots, broccoli, green beans and potatoes into his mouth.

“Irving… are you all right?” came a concerned voice outside his door. Gulping down the last of the green beans, he mumbled, “Yeah, Ma. I’m fine. Sorry I made you upset.”

“Oh, Irving, don’t worry about it,” Violet Zitkin said with a smile in her voice. “How about getting ready for bed now? I’ll see you in the morning, OK?”

“OK…Um-m, Ma?” Irving called sheepishly, “I’m done with my dinner now.”

“I know you are, ‘sweetheart’.” came a dry, crunchy chuckle. Irving suddenly froze in terror. “Yow! Corporal Carotte’s come back for me!

Holding his breath, he listened as the strange voice and shuffling footsteps faded down the stairs. Then he tiptoed softly to his door, opening it just a crack…

But all Irving saw was a plate heaped high with chocolate chip cookies.

Illustration & Text © 2006 Ilene Winn-Lederer

If illustrations appear distorted in your browser, just double-click on them for clear view.

Note To My Readers:

If you enjoyed this little story, would you like to see Irving & The VeggieBeasts fully illustrated as a book for children? Please comment!

A Word About Words…

January 1, 2021

“In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Much has been made of our fascination with the written word and created image whether it appears on architecture, parchment, broadside or bound in book form. We are taught to understand that with iconic or alphabetic symbols, our subtle thoughts and ideas which reflect our development as a species, can be shared while acquiring powers of their own to influence others and by extension, their cultures. Images ranging from the most ancient cave paintings to public sculpture and political cartoons have provoked an array of emotions, political and civil actions that have in turn inspired a long cycle of written responses.

But how, exactly, does this happen? And could the perceived power of written words and images fuel a certain primitive fear of them, driving us to selectively ban books or art in schools to reflect current political doctrine or mores? Can absorbing the written thoughts and ideas or imaginative images of others really alter our mundane realities? In a sense, yes, if only to affect our perception of them.

Historically, written words and images were always considered powerful, from the earliest cave paintings to the development of written languages. When artisans were commissioned to carve, incise or paint them on stone, bits of wood, metal or clay amulets, the owners held great store in their power to afford personal protection and manifest wishes. In various cultures throughout the Middle East, prayers, blessings or magical incantations were written on the inside of clay bowls as a way to influence supernatural forces to protect a household, encourage fertility or promote healing from illness while some of these objects were imbued with curses or negative wishes* that were intended to vanquish enemies or bring about social and/or political change.

Incantation Bowl-Babylon
Hebrew Protective Birth Amulet
Mezuzah: Hebrew Doorpost Amulet

Rationalists dismiss such ideas and practices as magical thinking, pure fantasy. After all, aren’t words merely static marks on a two or three dimensional surface? Physically, of course they are, and yet…

How do our minds extract and engage their power? Reading and listening to public speech invites them to inhabit and work through us to reveal and accomplish what their creator intended. Despite their seeming static quality, they quietly captivate our synapses like viral entities. They provoke images, questions, connect ideas, arouse memories and activate emotions all in service to their author(s); all without leaving their walls or pages!

Several essays appear in this blog that address the interactions between words and images and their effect on the reader and viewer:

https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/from-parashah-mattot-words-of-worlds/

https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/can-art-be-lost-in-translation/

https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/a-blessing-for-peace-protection/

While these ideas are certainly not new, I intended this essay as a timely reminder for 2021 that words and images can be powerful, intertwined tools to use in altering existing realities and create perceptions of new ones. What’s not always obvious is that as often as they are employed altruistically, their subtle use can easily become weaponized for malicious intent. Globally, in the past few years we have seen ample evidence of their use in corporate and political misinformation campaigns and hate screeds promoted on social media, in print and by news organizations that have been allowed unlimited freedom to express their often harmful biases.

With benevolence or malevolence aforethought, the choice of words and images offered for public consumption is always ours and always will be. But the legacy our words create beyond our lifetimes may not always be.

Illustrations©2020 Ilene Winn-Lederer

Quarantine Day 24: Flying In Place

April 5, 2020

I first became aware of the 17th century French philosopher and moralist Blaise Pascal in 1990 while working on the illustrations for ‘Sometimes I Am A Kite’, my first book for children. Under contract with Green Tiger Press in La Jolla, CA, I was assigned to work with a California book designer whose work habits were not only irritating, but hampered my own via time zones and her aversion to picking up her phone (no email or smartphone texting back then).

She left me no choice but to listen repeatedly to this odd message on her answering machine: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” There was no attribution given but I eventually located the source which only reinforced my notion of her eccentricity. Considering the circumstances, I found this quotation annoying but it must’ve resonated somewhere in my subconscious along with my penchant for illustrating the tales in classic mythology. Not long after the book project was completed, ‘The Memoirs Of Icarus’, an ink and watercolor drawing, came to be. 

Of course, I couldn’t have predicted the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but Pascal’s philosophic bon mot seems apropos to the world now figuring out how to survive in isolation from the disease, so I decided to post that drawing here. In retrospect, it joins the other illustrations in my ‘Quarantine Portfolio’ that can be seen on Facebook and Instagram at the links below:

https://www.facebook.com/ilederer  https://www.instagram.com/ilenelederer/?hl=en

 

A Creative Dilemma

December 6, 2019

CREATIVE-DILEMMA-JUGGLER-RGB

ligature-o-rgb-4NE of the more common tropes in the creative process is ‘block’, usually prefaced by the words ‘writers’ or artists’. This ‘condition’, so to speak, and its ‘remedies’ have been documented so copiously that one would think it is a disease. So, considering the ‘disease’ metaphor, perhaps we can associate indecision as one of its major side effects.                  

The statement, “I have no idea.” is a common complaint, so often voiced that it has become a cliché,  is somewhat nonsensical. The problem is not that we have no ideas or that we have exhausted our store of them; the ‘block’ is empowered when we convince ourselves that we are incapable of CHOOSING which idea among myriads to develop.
 
Imagine that you’ve gone fishing in a well-stocked pond but the pond’s owner has set a daily limited time to fish and a maximum catch of only one per day. A school of potentially tasty fish approaches; how do you choose which one will make the best meal within your allotted fishing time? Mulling your choices, you eventually decide based on your experience and instincts, gifts that we sometimes tend to ignore.
 
Yet, I often think of indecision as a deep mistrust of those gifts in the belief that whatever we create will not meet the high standards we have set for ourselves or that we imagine others expect of us.
 
Combined with fear and loathing of blank surfaces, whether it is paper, canvas, a chunk of wood or marble, we may feel some combination of excitement and dread before our ideas are ready to manifest. Unpleasant and unsettling as this state may be, I suspect that its real purpose is as a device, an engine, if you will, to kickstart our creative flow. Indecision can also be a process akin to an appetizer before a meal, giving us a taste of the creative adventures that lie ahead.
 
 
As an illustrator, even when an assignment calls for very specific imagery, the ‘block’ may ‘materialize’ when trying to decide how to design that image for a specific audience, market, predetermined format or illustration style with which to present it in final art form.
 
A further complication is the challenge and pressure of externally set deadlines. Regarding an assignment whose subject matter is less than engaging, I have often felt the urge to rush a ‘quick and dirty’ solution to a project quickly off my physical or virtual drawing board merely to meet a deadline. But experience has taught me that the decision to do so usually comes back to bite me in the form of frustrating multiple revisions that rarely end well.
 
Even when I set out to create a personal work of art where no external pressures are present, I am assailed by a similar set of ‘symptoms of anxiety and indecision at least until I have laid a basic framework for this new venture.
 
To be fair, everyone suffers from indecision at various times in life. Still, I do know that those of us in the throes of indecision as we embark on creative journeys morph into a strange species of human to an observer. Watch us; we may be out and about in our neighborhoods getting coffee or doing mundane daily errands but rest assured we are out there mentally gathering and sorting images and ideas with which to dislodge our creative ‘blocks’. Our minds are virtually everywhere else, solving the problem of what to do with those blank surfaces we’ve temporarily abandoned in our workspaces.
 
And that’s ok, because among all creatures, we most certainly are human anomalies with a unique life task; to create mirrors and perhaps palliatives through our work that may help others see themselves more clearly; perhaps even understand and appreciate our collective role as stewards of our planet.

An Ephemeral Evolution

July 23, 2018

StillLifeWithComputer-1984.jpg

One afternoon late in 2015, as I was listening to a discussion of creativity by a group of experts in computer science and related fields on NPRs’ Science Friday program, the pencil and watercolor drawing shown above, Still Life With Computer, came to mind. Since I’d made the drawing back in 1984, I’d been periodically thinking about the current and future capabilities of artificial intelligence in the wake of organic human creativity, which they were examining in depth.

Just the tenor of all the tech-speak reminded me that creativity is much more than a theoretical, mathematical, virtual process. It is a construct of our physical senses, experiences, emotions, memories, decisions and choices. Working in synch, these elements spark one or more images in our minds that we can decide to manifest through a visual medium such as drawing and/or writing.

Metaphorically, the creative process is akin to threading our way through a mental labyrinth. There, we might ultimately find the object of our journey, even if we had no clear picture of it going in. It is not always evident whether that object will turn out to be a monster, a brilliant idea or whether we will be able to retrace our steps so as to consider the bigger picture of our efforts. Of course, we can accomplish this latter goal by choosing to retain our notes and/or sketches for use in future or to create an entirely new project. For these reasons, I’ve always believed that each of us has this creative potential, yet if and how we decide to express it is what makes each of us uniquely human.

Although this mode of thinking and its products have nourished and documented our cultural progress and history, it was only a matter of time until we had no choice but to acknowledge the perceptual changes that the growing presence and influence of virtual art-making are exercising on our society.

So I wondered: If we were to code a computer with artificial intelligence that allows it to interpret an image and/or text such as the Mona Lisa or a manuscript page of Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (c. 1412-1416 and 1485-1489 CE), could it create an entirely new image or text based on the information we’ve provided? More importantly, could that image be taken for one that the original artist would make were he or she living today? Finally, would this technology be able to determine when its ‘mission’ is ‘complete’?

A few years ago, these ideas were in the realm of science fiction for me; they were intriguing but did not seem to be a real threat to the high value society accords to creators of original, manual artworks. Even when early virtual/mechanical developments showed promise, I still suspected that a computer’s artificial ability to create art intended to engender profound human emotion might only produce a visual experience as flat as the reproduction of a masterpiece in a book or magazine.

I actually thought that we would need years, even decades to clarify and quantify our own understanding of human objectivity, free will and the ‘soul’ for artificial intelligence to decode it. I also imagined this knowledge would have to manifest as a mechanical surrogate like the science-fictional positronic brain of Star Trek’s android character Mr. Data in order to accomplish this goal. 

DataTNG.jpg

Ah, is ignorance bliss, or what? But fantasies do have their limit.

Ever since AI computers have been shown to perform well in strategic tasks like human-computer chess matches (where a series of traditional outcomes (moves leading to checkmate) has been predetermined, their high-speed, analytical abilities and performance have been increasing exponentially. 

Indeed, progress in this area has taken on a life of its own with finance professionals tweaking its light-speed fortune-making possibilities, medical researchers implementing and anticipating more sophisticated disease treatments, our world’s dependence on it to support our service and power infrastructure and of course, science fiction writers and filmmakers envisioning societies informed by this work.

Simultaneously, as scholars and scientists are employing artificial intelligence to explain creative people and the act of creativity itself, they are racing to democratize creativity and its decision-making component by reducing this process to dizzyingly complex algorithms.

Yet, wonderful as these developments are, instinct tells me that a complete accounting for a creative person’s true talent is missing a few numbers. Artistic talent is an ephemeral fusion of observations, memory and manual skills that include decision-making based on what he or she has seen, heard and experienced. So in my opinion, the inherent subtleties in human creativity have not yet been fully re-imagined.

That said, from my personal experience with digitally enhancing my traditional art, the perceived line between traditional art and art produced by artificial intelligence is becoming frighteningly thin.

Not only can we now make art with virtual tools on a virtual substrate, AI computers partnered with 3D printing technology can also digitally scan an Old Master painting and extrapolate techniques in order to create and produce a new physical image from it, as explained by this article from the online magazine, Marketing In Asia.

In addition, I was recently amazed and bit uneasy at Pittsburgh’s Wood Street Gallerys exhibit in which the entire Hebrew Torah and The St. James Bible were created on paper by a robotic arm. Not being a biblical scholar, I couldn’t attest to its accuracy, but somehow, the whole idea left me cold as I imagined medieval monks in a scriptorium laboring for years to produce their calligraphic and pictorial masterpieces.

So, this essay is meant to ask a few questions whose answers may already be obvious to some of you:

1. If current profit motives and economic prerogatives prevail, could or will AI developments in the arts eventually render human creatives obsolete?

2. Can we ever faithfully capture and mechanize the true essence of the human spirit, the driving force that makes us the wonderfully functioning creatures, receptive and responsive to physical and intellectual experience that we’ve become through biological evolution and the continuum of history?

3. Will we gradually lose our ability to identify and respond to the nuances of original, manual art as we normalize art produced by virtual means?

4. What consequences of such normalization can we expect in terms of intellectual property protection? Fasken, an international law firm has offered its own questions and answers to this concern.

5. Finally, will this new ‘normal’ become the tool of our own cultural immortality or the weapon of its destruction?

What say you?

The Incredible Slowness of Patience

August 22, 2017

CG-ConsciousDreamers.jpg

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!

TimPearce-CMNH.JPG

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

GiantConchShell.JPG

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.

conesnailshells-carnivorous.jpgconeshells.jpg

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

ChitonShell.jpg

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:

CG-Xenophoridae.JPG

Xenophoridae1.JPGXenophoridae-Naked.JPG

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

CodexGastropoda-Cover-FLATFINAL.jpg

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.

TheBurdenOfKnowledge-Text.jpg

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

28-SlymeAlphabet-4x5.jpg

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.  

**********************************************************************************

* 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/ 

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)

Bestiary: An Imaginary Menagerie

October 27, 2016

1-Bestiary-8x10Cover-Recto-FINAL.jpg

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.

armordillounicornsketch

 

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…

 

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