I’m continuing my 2017 goal of doing a sketch a day. Each month has a loose theme. February was portraits of famous African Americans, while March had me sketching various small objects such as utensils, money and figurines. For April, I’m taking inspiration from Charley Harper, Howard Pierce and the dormant-yet-still-terrific Animalarium weblog. I will be sketching a stylized animal a day, rendered in as modern a style as possible. In fact, I like this idea so much that it will continue in June and September. Follow along on Whimsy, Inc. or Instagram!
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.
This month, some of my art got put on display in a local gallery. When Phoenix’s r. pela contemporary art sent out a call for entries for a juried group exhibition called 33 1/3! Altered Album Cover Art, I was intrigued. This is a show that explores our shared nostalgia/repulsion with vinyl records, musical expression, commerce, what-have-you… I’m in! Having accumulated a lot of otherwise worthless old LPs bought at thrift stores in the ’90s, I momentarily set aside working on LitKids prints and created the two multi-layered collages seen here. Surprisingly, both of them were accepted in the show. One, Autopsy: Living Stereo (above), even sold before the show officially opened on December 5th. How cool is that?
Living Stereo goes into the visual language of ’50s-’60s “Ping Pong Stereo” albums by layering a succession of covers with concentric circles cut out of the centers. Bits of type, human figures and blocks of vivid color peek out of the edges. Although I would have loved to have taken 100 LPs and make it one long, concave, cone-shaped abyss of cardboard edges, the final 14-layer assemblage came out lively and interesting. This piece used albums by Leo Addeo, the Three Suns, David Rose, Buddy Morrow and other forgotten names from the “and His Orchestra” era. In the gallery, the piece got a great presentation atop an easel with a vintage record player and albums strewn underneath.
The second Autopsy piece (below) was based on French chanteuse-turned-accused-murderer Claudine Longet. I love the simplicity and chutzpah of her 1967 debut LP on A&M Records, with just her first name set in Peignot type (a.k.a. the Mary Tyler Moore Show font). For Autopsy: Claudine, I cut around the silhouette of Claudine’s portrait on the LP and layered it with similar ’60s Easy Listening LPs cut with holes that contoured with the shape above. With the albums near the bottom of the stack getting darker, it’s intended to be a poignant, cautionary piece on fame and the predatory music industry (hopefully apparent even for those who don’t know Claudine’s sordid post-musical-career fate). In addition to Claudine, this sculpture uses covers from Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Burt Bacharach, Lana Cantrell, 101 Strings and a few other “Now Sound of Today” artifacts.
The show runs through December 31st, 2014. I will be on hand at r. pela contemporary art for a few hours on the night of December 19th to try and convince someone to make a wise investment in the Claudine piece.
Being a person who avidly looks forward to any and all documentaries on artists and illustrators, the DVD release Drew: The Man Behind the Poster came as a welcome sight. Erik Sharkey’s flawed but very interesting 2012 doc acquaints us with the iconic ’80s movie artist Drew Struzan. If you see that name and think “Drew who?,” perhaps a list of his most memorable posters will ring a bell – Star Wars. Back to the Future. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Muppet Movie. The Goonies. The Thing. Blade Runner. Police Academy!
While Drew: The Man Behind the Poster tends to get too superficial at times, it’s a worthwhile and admiring portrait. Director Erik P. Sharkey got an impressive array of Hollywood types to sing Struzan’s praises, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Guillermo Del Toro, Thomas Jane, and Frank Darabont. The film opens with a documentary cliché that I particularly loathe – the endless montage of people fawning over the subject – a sequence which would undoubtedly make the laid-back Struzan cringe. The following 90 minutes, however, establish Struzan as an unassuming regular-guy with an extraordinary gift for rendering movie stars with the right balance of painterly expression and fairy dust.
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster was made from the point of view of a movie fan wanting to dig deeper into the guy behind moviedom’s most iconic posters – from an artist’s perspective, it’s something of a letdown. The best sequences have Struzan discussing his start in the funky ’70s L.A. art scene, including his early album covers for Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and others. Another good sequence has Struzan and Charles White III gabbing about their collaboration on the famous Star Wars retro-look poster (I also loved the part with Struzan and an obviously grateful Lucas together, perusing the Star Wars art). One amazing thing that comes across is how prolific he was, often re-doing completed artwork from scratch without breaking a sweat (the adding of Mary Steenburgen to the Back to the Future Part III poster is the standout in that regard). As is befitting a film that climaxes at San Diego Comic Con, however, you have to wade through a lot of puffery to get to the meat. This blog post by illustrator Jed Alexander explains that frustration pretty well, along with providing some primo examples of work from Struzan and his contemporaries.
While The Man Behind the Poster never strays far from being a simple celebration of Drew and his art, there is a little bitterness around the edges. The subtext of this movie is basically “Why did they stop making posters like Drew’s?” Sadly, even in the case of an über-talented artist like Struzan, Hollywood has moved on from using illustrators (by and large) for marketing their stuff. After all, it’s easier for a studio to exert control over a Photoshopped montage of movie star heads floating in the sky. If that turn of events affected the mellow Struzan, it doesn’t show as he’s seen in the film having a comfortable semi-retirement – painting his own subjects and enjoying quality time with his family.
After toiling away for a few weeks in our converted garage studio, I finally have a new LitKids print ready – the master detective, Sherlock Holmes! Sure, the colors are somewhat offbeat (manly shade of maroon for the outline, with yellow ochre, pinkish salmon and metallic bronze), but they came out beautifully. Like all the LitKids prints, they are hand-signed and printed atop pages from a classic book (A. C. Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) along with a random splash of gold paint for an extra touch of uniqueness.
This has been a busy few weeks for LitKids. In addition to completing the Holmes print, we have a selection of the prints and merchandise displayed at Olivastro here in Phoenix this month. Olivastro is a cool locally owned shop that sells delicious flavor-infused olive oils and vinegars. Phoenix peeps, check it out!
Sherlock can be purchased here. Through December 15th, use code SCROOGE to get 20% off on this and everything LitKids!
Christopher and I spent a few hours this morning installing a dozen framed LitKids prints at Treehouse Bakery, a vegan business located a short walk from our home in downtown Phoenix. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but don’t they look lovely?
I’m excited about this opportunity, since it’s the first time I’ve exhibited my own art in public since about 1995. Better yet, we’re mounting these pieces again in two months, at another local, independently run business. Locals supporting other locals – a beautiful arrangement! More photos from today have been included in the LitKids flickr set.