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Category Archives: Art

Huckleberry Finn at LitKids

Just listed a new LitKids print of Mark Twain’s indelible scamp Huckleberry Finn. Another nice one, although this particular one came out differently than I expected (don’t they all?). I originally planned to do this one in two silk screened layers, with a solid shape on the bottom and the drawing on top. Unfortunately, the seam where the book pages meet caused bleeding problems, and so I had to fall back on the old “spray paint through a stencil” technique used in the other two LitKids prints. This time I have a lighter color silk screened over a medium color field — an interesting, subtle effect that doesn’t come across too well in the photos below. Some of the earlier spray painted prints produced a gorgeous darker blue field with a dusty, speckled texture. Those look killer. Since most of the final prints have a solid medium blue background, that’s what is pictured in the shop.

There was also the matter of Huckleberry Finn containing the “n” word. Hmmm, I didn’t notice the text has lots of “n” words! I was able to catch some of the offending words and creatively cover them up with splashes of gold paint; I just hope we don’t wind up with a pissed off customer! My opinion is that quaint 1800s language set off by a modern drawing is part of what makes these prints unique, so if someone gets a print with an un-p.c. word or two consider it one of the extra special ones.

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LitKids Is Now Open!

Today is the day – LitKids on Etsy is finally open! There are two 12″x9″ prints available — Anne of Green Gables and Jo of Little Women — listed at $12 each.

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Ladies and Gents, Miss March

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My first run of Jo March Lit Kids screen prints was completed this week. The pages come from an lovely old edition of Little Women. I did a lot of preliminary drawings for Jo, and I’m still not sure if this one captures her spunky spirit, but they came out pretty nice all the same. And the color palette of mauve, purple and gold on yellowing paper looks absolutely gorgeous.

I was so busy with printing that I forgot about our Wednesday video. How about a scene from the historically inaccurate 1978 TV movie version of Little Women? I mean how “1978 TV movie” is the casting of Susan Dey as Jo and Meredith Baxter Birney as Jo’s sister Meg? Eve Plumb was in this as well (being a Brady Bunch fan, that was the only thing about this production I remember).

Turning Over a New Leaf

After a year, I think it’s time to give a sneak peek of my new venture — one that grew out of my frustrated inability to find work as an illustrator. I’m not going to dwell too much on the negative here, but lately it has been very difficult to find any freelance work at all. Last year, I put a lot of time and effort into sending out dozens of self-promotional postcards, only to find a chorus of crickets chirping in response. It was depressing as hell, but instead of throwing myself off a cliff I decided to channel that creative energy into something that’s on my terms. I’m making my own art and will try selling it on Etsy.

The photo below is the first fruit of my efforts. It’s a drawing of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables screen printed atop facing pages from the book that bears her name. This was an, how we say, interesting experience. Many of the prints came out off-register and with blobby looking lines, but I might be deluded enough to believe those elements add to their funky handmade charm. They’ll get more professional looking in time. Anne is the first, but I have great designs ready for five more characters. The process has been an expensive learning experience, but I’m having a lot of fun with it. Each print is completely unique, and I think there are a lot of factors involved (nostalgia for printed books, new mommies wanting something special for their kids) that might possibly resonate with the Etsy crowd. Most of all, it’s a lovingly handcrafted project that totally reflects my style, not something someone else imposed on me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s already a success.

The Etsy store is not officially open yet. I want to get another character printed up so it’s not just Anne sitting there by herself. The shop ought to be going live in a few weeks.

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Bill, When Are You Coming Back?

book_calvinIn Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip, Nevin Martell sets himself up with the impossible task of tracking down someone notorious for being more fame-averse than Greta Garbo and J.D. Salinger combined. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will tell you that I had a fun time reading this book. It’s equal parts memoir, history, and trying to understand an enigma. The tales about Bill Watterson and the genesis of his legendary Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, trying to get his career off the ground after years of frustration, and his love/hate relationship with success are fascinating. Watterson’s well known resistance to any and all merchandising of his characters is also fully explored here, and it adds another dimension to this complex man. It’s a frustrating tact to take, but I can understand it. It called to mind how much I cherished the Peanuts characters as a child, when what I really loved was the ancillary stuff (dolls, TV specials). Indeed, I didn’t fully appreciate Schulz’s comic itself until the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts volumes came out. The result of Watterson’s stance is letting the comic strip speak for itself, revealing it to be one of the most brilliant explorations of childhood imagination ever committed to ink and paper. Martell shares a similarly glowing view of the strip throughout this book, ruminating in an appealing, leisurely style that oftentimes comes across not so flatteringly like magazine writing. Overall, it’s not a very substantial book (at times I wish Martell didn’t inject so much of himself in the content), but the journey he takes is an enjoyable one to tag along with.

Book Review: The Handy Book of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic PrintingDoug Clouse and Angela Voulangas’ book The Handy Book of Artistic Printing: A Collection of Letterpress Examples with Specimens of Type, Ornament, Corner Fills, Borders, Twisters, Wrinklers, and other Freaks of Fancy is a long-titled exploration of a relatively short-lived trend in graphic design history. This beautifully designed volume covers a roughly two decade-long design fad from the late 19th-century that has previously been given scant attention by historians. With the emergence of letterpress and other new methods in the 1870s and ’80s, printers of the era showed off their wares and attracted clients in the form of promotional specimens. These particular specimens came emblazoned with the typically Victorian visual traits of excess ornamentation, strange color combinations, eclectic typefaces, and randomly jumbled layouts. Artistic Printing delves into every possible aspect of this phenomenon — how it came to be, a representative look at sixty different printers’ samples, and the movement’s ignoble fall in the juggernaut of 20th century modernist dogma.

This was such a cool book to page through, and oddly comforting in a way. Its centerpiece is the sixty printer’s specimens, each generally getting its own page with a nifty paragraph or two of background info on the opposite page. The specimens cover a gamut from the best of their kind to the run-of-the-mill and tacky. Many have a masturbatory “look at what I can do” bravado (in graphic design, some things never change), but the finest examples leave me breathless as to the care and craftsmanship good letter press printing requires. Sure, they may be as subtle as a lady’s hat festooned with a dead bird, but even the worst samples have a giddy exuberance. This book is the kind of effort that has inspiration on every page, right down to the weird and wonderful 1800s fonts reprinted in the back. One small complaint: in contrast to the lively and informative specimen descriptions, the text in the opening and closing chapters is very dryly written and academic (interesting and comprehensive, but still dry).

The odd thing about this particular trend is that it never fully disappeared. Printers’ ornaments of the era fell into the public domain, eventually getting re-published by the likes of Dover for new generations of designers to explore. As noted in Artistic Printing’s concluding chapter, this style is no more immune from other graphic styles for revival, preferably with a postmodern twist. For a good example, check out the cover story layout in the paper edition of the August 2009 Wired magazine — retro ornamentation everywhere!

The Handy Book of Artistic Printing comes from Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at Amazon.com here.

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing