2017 Goal: A Drawing a Day

03.01.2017 "Someone or something experiencing flight."

03.01.2017 “Draw someone or something experiencing flight.”


Although I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions, for this year I decided to take one on. In attempting to find a way improve my own self-discipline, creativity and drawing skills, the answer came while organizing a box of old stuff. I found an old, small sketchbook, 3.5 by 5 inches, unused except for a few pages. I’ll make a drawing every day! Armed with this, a 30 Day Drawing Challenge found via Google Images, and a bunch of pens and colored pencils, I went about doing this, cross-posting the results to Whimsy Inc (my illustration Tumblr), Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Although I run into problems fitting the drawings into my schedule (sometimes they’re the last thing I do before bedtime), this has been a great project. The small size of the sketchbook keeps it less daunting, and I will be refreshing the ideas behind the drawings every month. Next month, I plan to do 31 mini-portraits of prominent African Americans for Black History Month. If you like the pieces shown here, feel free to join along at Whimsy Inc or Instagram for more.

13.01.2017 "Draw a favorite character as a zombie." Night of the Living Patty & Jimmy.

13.01.2017 “Draw a favorite character as a zombie.” Night of the Living Patty & Jimmy.

20.01.2017 “Draw a destructive force.” Baby’s new toys.

20.01.2017 “Draw a destructive force.” Baby’s new toys.

28.01.2017 “Draw vegetation consuming something.” Slurp.

28.01.2017 “Draw vegetation consuming something.” Slurp.

22.01.2017 “Draw an infographic.” Bestest granola.

22.01.2017 “Draw an infographic.” Bestest granola.

14.01.17 “Draw a weird occupation.” Stand-in zoo animal.

14.01.17 “Draw a weird occupation.” Stand-in zoo animal.

08.01.2017 “Draw a monster performing a mundane task.”

08.01.2017 “Draw a monster performing a mundane task.”

27.01.2017 “Draw something breaking.” Crack in the façade.

27.01.2017 “Draw something breaking.” Crack in the façade.

23 Years of Homemade Holidays

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Since the early 1990s, I’ve made it a yearly tradition to illustrate, design and print my own holiday cards. That makes me a freak, I know, but there’s a lot of joy in thinking up new ideas and having no creative restraints. The cards end up looking individualistic, sometimes clunky, or surprisingly beautiful. I love them all.

This year was a struggle, since I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired after our horrible election season. Despite the added stress, the card design came out excellent. I thought about doing a drawing based on the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol. Some inspiration came from a lovely book showcasing midcentury modern designer Alexander Girard (an anniversary gift from Christopher). Browsing the Glass Menagerie pottery on Jonathan Adler’s site crystallized the design. A rubber eraser, carved with a pear shape, completed the card.

Some of our other cards over the past 23 years are pictured below (click on each for a larger view). Happy Holidays.

he earliest, funky cards from 1993-96. The deer silhouette is a favorite.

The earliest, funky cards from 1993-96. The deer silhouette is a favorite.

The Santa Claus illustration from 1996 was modified into a LitKids print (and card) in 2012.

The Santa Claus illustration from 1996 was modified into a LitKids print (and card) in 2012.

Cards from 1997 and 2003 (the year our children's book, Mama Cat, came out).

Cards from 1997 and 2003 (the year our children’s book, Mama Cat, came out).

In the 2000s, we had cards professionally printed with mixed results. Clockwise: 2007, 2008, 2015.

In the 2000s, we had cards professionally printed with mixed results. Clockwise: 2007, 2008, 2015.

Christopher's cut-paper designs graced cards in 2013 and 2014.

Christopher’s cut-paper designs graced cards in 2013 and 2014.

It’s a Small World After All

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Although it sports an unassuming, slapdash cover, Trademark Designs of the World is one of the most stimulating books I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning. First published in 1975, the slim paperback is the result of an offbeat collecting quest done by Japanese designer Yusaku Kamekura (1915-1997). All it amounts to, really, is a bunch of black and white company trademarks – 699 of them, to be exact – designed throughout the flourishing, consumerist post-World War II Modernist period. Kamekura arranges each trademark with great care and precision, with subtle numbered annotations next to each one (their credits and countries of origin are printed in an index in the back).

This book contains hardly any text, just page after page of ’50s-’60s Midcentury Modern Graphic Coolness. Although a preface by the famous designer Paul Rand might indicate that Kamekura’s collection is centered on iconic American trademarks (such as Rand’s IBM logo), most of the contents, surprisingly, are European and wonderfully obscure. While the pages contain a lot of the kind of austere, abstract stuff one would expect, most of the trademarks have a playful vibe, cleverly distilling letters, heraldry, and animal shapes to their most basic forms. Kamekura’s well-thought-out groupings of various trademarks on each page also inspire. I still find new, exciting stuff from paging through this book, despite having it for several months now. As a matter of fact, it’s proving to be a great resource for the visuals in my own upcoming how-to book.

In 1981, Trademark Designs of the World was reprinted as a low-cost paperback by Dover. While that edition has gone out of print, the book can be found cheaply at Amazon.com or Ebay.com. Highly recommended, folks!

Sun and rooster logos.

Sun and rooster logos.

Logos based on traditional European heraldry designs.

Logos based on traditional European heraldry designs.

Logo for Droste & Sohn, a German canned beef company.

Logo for Droste & Sohn, a German canned beef company.

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Logo for Hotel Sherman.

Logo for Hotel Sherman.

Fantastic spread with animal logos.

Fantastic spread with animal logos.

Pinwheel and abstract logos, artfully arranged.

Pinwheel and abstract logos, artfully arranged.

A favorite - London Mystery Magazine logo by  Eric Frazer.

A favorite – London Mystery Magazine logo by Eric Frazer.

Industrial objects, incorporated into modern logos.

Industrial objects, incorporated into modern logos.

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Look What I Found: Vacationland, Summer 1982

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Here’s a pristine issue of Vacationland from Summer 1982, added to my collection. This was a magazine produced by the Disney company and given away to hotel guests in Anaheim and Southern California. I remember poring through this particular issue as a kid on our somewhat frequent family vacations there, and it’s kind of a trip to see it again! Fascinating to see the company when it was prepping Epcot Center for opening, and constructing Tokyo Disneyland and a top-to-bottom makeover for Fantasyland in Disneyland.

As for the trip itself, I remember experiencing the TRON Superspeed Tunnel in the PeopleMover and playing a game of Frogger in the Starcade at Tomorrowland (in retrospect, kind of a weird thing to spend valuable Disneyland time on). Of course, our family tradition was making a beeline for Pirates as soon as the park opened, and we were wowed by the Main Street Electrical Parade. I also got ribbed for being a 13-year-old boy still into Disney. Guess what? I’m a 48-year-old man into Disney, and anyone who takes issue with that fact can kindly and gently shove it.

Here’s some photos from that issue – don’t forget to click the image for a full-sized version! And kindly keep your hands and feet inside the ride vehicle at all times.

Hostess advertisement featuring Robin Hood characters posing in from of the Fantasyland Skyway station (demolished in 2016 to make way for Star Wars Land).

Hostess advertisement featuring Robin Hood characters posing in from of the Fantasyland Skyway station (demolished in 2016 to make way for Star Wars Land).

Article on the Ronald Reagan anamatronic added to the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World.

Article on the Ronald Reagan anamatronic added to the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World.

Universal Studios Tour ad, from when they pitched themselves as an actual working movie studio with tours and not a theme park.

Universal Studios Tour ad, from when they pitched themselves as an actual working movie studio with tours and not a theme park.

This spread captivated my imagination - on the sign painters of Disneyland!

This spread captivated my imagination – on the sign painters of Disneyland!

Sea World advertisement opposite an article on the Tokyo Disneyland project.

Sea World advertisement opposite an article on the Tokyo Disneyland project.

Article on EPCOT Center (later shortened to just Epcot) flanked by ads for Gray Line Tours and Northern California.

Article on EPCOT Center (later shortened to just Epcot) flanked by ads for Gray Line Tours and Northern California.

Article on 1983 New Fantasyland flanked by ads for the San Diego Zoo and something called The Kingdom of Dancing Stallions.

Article on 1983 New Fantasyland flanked by ads for the San Diego Zoo and something called The Kingdom of Dancing Stallions.

Vacation Fun Spots - love this graphic!

Vacation Fun Spots – love this graphic!

Marineland ad highlighting the Baja Reef swim-through aquarium. I went on this, and the water was so cold!

Marineland ad highlighting the Baja Reef swim-through aquarium. I went on this, and the water was so cold!

Classy Knott's Ice Spectacular ad opposite a tacky Catalina Island boat tour ad.

Classy Knott’s Ice Spectacular ad opposite a tacky Catalina Island boat tour ad.

Local restaurants in Anaheim; Roger Folk Gallery in Laguna Beach.

Local restaurants in Anaheim; Roger Folk Gallery in Laguna Beach.

Knott's Berry Farm advertisment.

Knott’s Berry Farm advertisment.

They Drew As They Pleased: the 1930s

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I’ve been following Disney historian Didier Ghez since the mid-2000s, when he first started writing about old-style Walt Disney Studio goodness on his blog, Disney History. It was delightful to find that his labors have brought forth a fancy coffee-table-style book of vintage Disney studio art – the first of a series! The handsome 2015 hardback, They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s pays homage to overlooked artists who worked at the Disney studio in its prime.

They Drew As They Pleased gives a new spin to a familiar subject, shedding light on four particular artists with mini-biographies and a host of previously unpublished artwork. Even for those well-versed in what the Disney studio was working on in the ’30s – Mickey Mouse cartoons, Silly Symphonies shorts, the features Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia – there’s a lot of surprises within. Although the idea of using “concept artists” in film and TV production is pretty common today, back in the ’30s it was pretty rare. Indeed, Walt Disney was the first animation producer to realize the potential of hiring imaginative artists strictly for the purpose of inspiring the look and feel of the final product. The projects that these artists worked on included not just the classics listed above, but also films not released until much later (Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella) and shelved projects (Ballet de Fleurs, Streubel Peter, Japanese Symphony).

The artists profiled in They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s are pretty fascinating, especially given that I was familiar with just one (the brilliant Gustaf Tenggren). They are –

  • Albert Hurter (1883-1942), Disney’s first story artist. Hurter’s imaginative, spontaneous pencil drawings provided visual flair to many a Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoon. Some of his stuff reproduced here pushes the limits, going in a surreal, Dr. Seuss-like direction. Hurter’s life story was as unique as his talent (Disney kept him on the payroll, even as failing health had him in a convalescent home).
  • Ferdinand Horvath (1891-1973) lent his wide-ranging abilities to layouts, animation, gag drawings, illustration at the studio over a period of several years. Horvath had had a tempestuous relationship with Disney, although it doesn’t show in his whimsical, kinetic and polished work.
  • Gustaf Tenggren (1896-1970). Like Hurter, Gustaf Tenggren was an eccentric European expat whose visual flair left its mark on a variety of Disney productions. Most significantly, his gorgeous production art brought an immersive Old World sensibility to Snow White and Pinocchio. That celebrated art is reproduced here, along with some fascinating storyboard art and production studies. Tenggren’s bio, like Hurter’s, reveals a fascinating, quirky life (will someone do a long-form bio on this guy? I’d snap it up.).
  • Bianca Majolie (1900-1997). Besting Mary Blair by a few years, Majolie was Disney’s first female concept artist. A classmate of Walt’s from Chicago, Majolie endeared herself to Disney by contributing a feminine touch to a handful of short subjects (a few of which went unreleased) in the late ’30s. Unfortunately, the overtly macho atmosphere in Disney’s story department prompted Majolie to resign in 1940. Too bad – based on this book, her work was delightful.

They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s was published in 2015 by Chronicle. A follow-up volume, the first of two covering the 1940s, just came out last month. Ghez himself told me that there will be six volumes published, in total (yeah!). Both current volumes can be purchased at Amazon.com here and here.

Tenggren artwork for Ballet de Fleurs (L) and The Old Mill (R).

Tenggren artwork for Ballet de Fleurs (L) and The Old Mill (R).

Foreword spread with Horvath studies for The Fox Hunt (1938).

Foreword spread with Hovarth studies for The Fox Hunt (1938).

Majolie character studies for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Majolie character studies for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Hurter studies for a seductive hippo, possibly for Fantasia.

Hurter studies for a seductive hippo, possibly for Fantasia.

Tenggren concept art for Little Hiawatha.

Tenggren concept art for Little Hiawatha.

Horvath at the easel, from his biographical section.

Horvath at the easel, from his biographical section.

Each artist profile has a beautiful opening spread - here's part of  Tenggren's.

Each artist profile has a beautiful opening spread – here’s part of Tenggren’s.

Majolie ideas and drawings for the abandoned short Japanese Symphony.

Majolie ideas and drawings for the abandoned short Japanese Symphony.

Back cover, sporting some great Pinocchio concept art from Tenggren.

Back cover, sporting some great Pinocchio concept art from Tenggren.

Terrapin Stew and Black Bottom Pie

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One often finds neat things in used books. Prepping for an upcoming LitKids print, I ended up buying an old copy of that kitchen standby, The Joy of Cooking. This particular book was perfect, a 1952 edition with the cover no longer attached yet complete, relatively pristine pages inside. The pages will look excellent behind this print’s artwork – a saucy, lip-smackin’ cupcake.

Aside from providing great background for my print, there’s a lot more to this Joy of Cooking that reveals the attitudes of the ’50s. First off, the little illustrations that accompany the recipes are brilliant – stylized yet simple enough to convey what the instructions can’t. They remind me of Andy Warhol’s early stuff, although it’s not his (Warhol did illustrate a cookbook, once). The recipes themselves are pretty intriguing, as well, heavily reliant on fatty/rich ingredients and dishes that are meant to impress guests (including every kind of hors d’oeuvres imaginable). One fascinating part – probably not in the current edition – details how to prepare a live turtle for stew meat!

As with every other pre-owned book that I come by, I ponder the previous owner(s). Did they read and enjoy the book, or did it sit in a box, unloved for years and decades? Other than a few penciled-in notations and random stains in the dessert section (the part I needed!), there was little to indicate who had this Joy of Cooking. Somewhere along the line, however, a home cook decided to slip some intriguing bits of paper within — a couple of newspaper clippings and a handwritten list of ingredients. Not much to go on, right? But I love the little story these bits of paper tell. In 1985, somebody used this older copy of Joy of Cooking to help prepare a Thanksgiving dinner. The research included the “Better Living” section from a Rhode Island newspaper, The Bay Window, and a separate newspaper clipping with a Roast Stuffed Turkey recipe (by the way, the Window‘s ’80s food editor Lynda Rego is apparently still in Rhode Island, writing a genealogy column for a different newspaper). The book also has a hand-written list of ingredients on pink paper, for some kind of sugary dessert. Those bits of ephemera, and a few choice bits from the book, are pictured below. Bon appetit!

Carving a turkey, illustrations by Ginnie Hoffman and Beverly Warner.

Carving a turkey, illustrations by Ginnie Hoffman and Beverly Warner.

Ephemera from a 1952 edition of The Joy of Cooking.

Ephemera from a 1952 edition of The Joy of Cooking.

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Preparing a turtle for stew (yuck!); cutting pea pods.

Preparing a turtle for stew (yuck!); cutting lima bean pods.

Apple custard recipe.

Apple custard recipe page with stains.

Preparing macaroons from The Joy of Cooking (1952 ed.), illustration by Ginnie Hoffman and Beverly Warner.

Preparing macaroons from The Joy of Cooking (1952 ed.), illustration by Ginnie Hoffman and Beverly Warner.

Test print for "Tempting Cupcake" LitKids print.

Test print for “Tempting Cupcake” LitKids print.