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Category Archives: Illustration

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.

Look What I Found: Loyd Tireman’s Cocky

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We saw a lot of terrific things on a recent visit to the Heard Museum, a local institution here in Phoenix which focuses on Native American art, past and present. Something that really stoked my imagination could be found not in the museum, proper, but in the bookstore. Neatly lined up on a shelf, there was a group of kids’ books – colorful volumes focusing on animals of the Southwest, done in a vivid 1940s style. It was the Mesaland series: a set of seven volumes written by Loyd Tireman and published by his employer, The University of New Mexico, from 1943 to 1949. These enchanting books were brought back into print by the University press in 2015. As evidenced by Cocky, Tireman’s tale of a feisty road runner and his young family, the books are well worth checking out.

The fourth Mesaland book, Cocky (1946) takes place in a contemporary desert setting brimming with wildlife, with some intrusions by humans (like Felix Slatkin’s classic Bambi, although not quite as preachy). Cocky arrives to set up a nest with his mate, Mrs. Cocky, his odd appearance puzzling a jackrabbit named Hop-A-Long (introduced in a previous Mesaland volume). While attempting to raise chicks with Mrs. Cocky, Cocky encounters a variety of foes, including a rattlesnake and a hunting human. He also sneaks into a farm’s chicken coop to pilfer some food, annoying a hot-blooded rooster. Tireman, a long-tenured professor of elementary education, makes the story both educational and entertaining. The story is fairly realistic and attuned to how real animals behave – like Bambi, it’s not sugar-coated. Having lived and worked in New Mexico for so long (32 years at the University alone), Tireman imbues the story with the ambiance of the Southwestern desert – something totally unprecedented in the ’40s!

All of the Mesaland books are enlivened by dynamic, Dr. Seuss-ish artwork from Ralph Douglass, one of Tireman’s colleagues at the University. Along with Cocky, the series included Baby Jack and Jumping Rabbit, Hop-a-Long (both about rabbits), Dumbee (focusing on a bee!), Big Fat (a groundhog), Quills (a porcupine) and 3 Toes (a wolf).

The reprinted Mesaland volumes are unabridged and nicely bound as compact, dust jacket-free hardbacks. The original two-color printing is done a bit differently in the 2015 books as a standard four-color process, a difference which likely will be only noticed by graphic designers. Cocky can be purchased at the University of New Mexico website, or at Amazon.com. Since the original books have long gone out of print, commanding high prices on the used market, it’s excellent that these wonderful books are back on shelves.

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Golden Adventures, Brushy Animals

Cornelius De Witt illustration from The Golden Encyclopedia (1946).

Cornelius De Witt illustration from The Golden Encyclopedia (1946).

I feel the need to do a catch-all post sharing the vintage kid books which we’ve come across lately – so here it is! These three books were all acquired at thrift stores and used book sales. For admirers of vintage 20th century illustration, they’re especially great. They are:

  • Adventures in Geography, written and illustrated by Gertrude Alice Kay (1929; revised 1941). A globe-spanning story of a young boy and his eccentric uncle taking a luxury steamboat voyage to exotic locales, described in detail and illuminated by Ms. Kay’s lovely, impressionistic watercolor drawings. The visuals have a classic storybook flair with saturated colors and rounded edges. Gertrude Alice Kay led a fascinating life. Apparently the contents of this particular book first appeared in issues of Ladies Home Journal magazine. It’s a charming, evocative little book.
  • The Golden Encyclopedia, written by Dorothy A. Bennett; illustrated by Cornelius De Witt (1946). This large-format book is a typical encyclopedia, explaining things like plant and animal life, history, industrial production, games, music and geography in a way that’s informative yet never condescending of its young audience. What attracted me to this book was De Witt’s incredibly detailed illustrations, many of which take up an entire page in this 10×13-inch volume. It’s 126 pages, with artwork on nearly every page – an incredible undertaking!
  • The Big Book of Animal Stories, compiled and edited by Margaret Green; illustrated by Janusz Grabianski (1961). A compilation of famous animal legends and stories, brightened by beautiful, brushy artwork by Polish artist Grabianski. His work is delicate yet robust, and filled with joy. Hopefully my photos will suffice, but the blog The Art of Children’s Picture Books did two posts sharing plenty more images from this marvelous book.
Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

Look What I Found: Two from Raymond Briggs

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I spent the last quarter of 2015 delving into the work of Raymond Briggs, the indubitably British cartoonist, graphic novelist – and it’s taken me this long to do a post about him!

It started last October, when I received the birthday gift of a Blu-ray edition of When the Wind Blows, the 1986 movie adaptation of Briggs’ story of an elderly British couple preparing their rural home for a nuclear attack. James and Hilda Bloggs (voiced by Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft) are a typical, kindly and even-tempered duo who greet the upcoming bombings with a mixture of cheerful optimism and pragmatic naiveté (“There’s no need to forget your manners just because there’s a war on,” Hilda cautions her husband during a rare outburst). With bone-dry, observant humor, Briggs points out the absurdity of this quaint couple preparing for nuclear annihilation as if it were a minor inconvenience in the simple routine of their lives. The movie itself is one of the most unique animated efforts ever made – director Jimmy Murakami stages the action with traditional animated cels photographed against miniature sets of the Bloggs’ home. Most of it preserves the colored-pencil shadings of Briggs’ work, although other scenes are done with expressionistic methods more in keeping with the anxious soundtrack from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. This is an amazing movie with perfect voice-acting from Richardson and Ashcroft. Twilight Time included a lot of worthwhile extras on the Blu-ray, although the main one – a feature-length documentary with Murakami returning to the site where he was interred as a child in World War II – was a disappointment.

Viewing When the Wind Blows sparked an interest in the book which piqued my interest in Briggs in the first place – his acclaimed 1998 graphic novel, Ethel and Ernest: A True Story. This was Briggs’ poignant chronicle of his own parents’ courtship, marriage and deaths, told chronologically from when they met in 1928 up through the early ’70s. Mr. and Mrs. Briggs greet war, child-rearing, labor and politics with a typically British “cheerio, can-do” unflappability – the fact that they so closely resemble Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs is no coincidence. This couple seems much more real, however – Briggs captures them as quirky and all-too-human, yet worthy of admiration. I read this book last December, around the same time that I got to check out Briggs’ classic TV special The Snowman for the first time. Briggs’ elegantly shaded pencil lines have roughened up into jagged chicken scratches over the years, yet this book shows how his parents’ ordinary lives – facing incredible societal changes with grace and good humor – reflects the very spirit of the United Kingdom.

When the Wind Blows is available at Twilight Time’s website, while Ethel & Ernest can be had cheaply at AbeBooks.com.

Film still from When the Wind Blows.

Film still from When the Wind Blows.

Animation drawing from When the Wind Blows.

Animation drawing from When the Wind Blows.

Picture disc single of David Bowie's "When the Wind Blows," 1986.

Picture disc single of David Bowie’s “When the Wind Blows,” 1986.

Page from Ethel & Ernest.

Page from Ethel & Ernest.

Panel from Ethel & Ernest.

Panel from Ethel & Ernest.

Discovering John Alcorn: Evolution by Design

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As a birthday gift to myself, I bought a coffee table book titled John Alcorn: Evolution by Design. This is one time when it’s appropriate to call it a gift, since this tribute to possibly the most prolific ’50s-to-’80s-era illustrator shares Alcorn’s gifts with the world – corny, yet true!

Co-authored by Alcorn’s son, Stephen, and design historian Marta Sironi, Evolution by Design succeeds as both a comprehensive career overview and a personal remembrance (Alcorn died in 1992). Packed full of beautifully reproduced original art, this volume was an eye-opener. For someone like me who knew Alcorn from his groovy late ’60s commercial peak (e.g., The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs), the breadth and sheer talent displayed within these pages is nothing short of revelatory. This man was a true artist, always searching for the next horizon to explore. Alcorn started out with New York’s legendary Pushpin Studios, branched out on his own to incredible success in the ’60s, then helped shape America’s visual zeitgeist with a vocabulary of sinuous shapes, natural forms, and wild colors. He wasn’t one to rest on his laurels, however. In the early ’70s, Alcorn and his family uprooted to Italy, where he studied the country’s master painters and craftsmen. He remained astonishingly prolific during this time – becoming a favorite of the iconic film director Federico Fellini, among others – although most of this period’s output never made it to the U.S. Returning to these shores in the late ’70s, Alcorn continued to thrive with a gorgeous, mature style highlighted by a thoughtful attention to detail that never appeared fussy. The book closes out with a chapter devoted to one of the artist’s recurring visual motifs, the blooming flower.

John Alcorn: Evolution by Design was published by Moleskine, the notebook company, in 2013. It can be purchased at the Moleskine website or at Amazon.com.

Illustration projects for Mead papers (left) and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (right), 1969.

Illustration projects for Mead papers (left) and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (right), 1969.

Ad campaign for WCAU radio shown alongside their letterpress plates, 1959.

Ad campaign for WCAU radio shown alongside their letterpress plates, 1959.

Cut-paper student work and advertisement, mid-'50s.

Cut-paper student work and advertisement, mid-’50s.

Fruits and vegetables illustrated for Morgan Press and others, 1981-91.

Fruits and vegetables illustrated for Morgan Press and others, 1981-91.

Logo designs for Italian publisher Rizzoli, 1970s.

Logo designs for Italian publisher Rizzoli, 1970s.

Children's book illustrations, 1969.

Children’s book illustrations, 1969.

Various book jacket designs from the late '60s and early '70s.

Various book jacket designs from the late ’60s and early ’70s.