Last Christmas, my spouse gave me a nice new Wacom drawing tablet. Regrettably, I hadn’t been using it very much. Just like physical exercise, however, artists need to draw and create on a regular basis to keep their skills strong. Besides, here I was hitting my late ’40s with not much to show for my decade-plus efforts at becoming a bona fide illustrator. In order to do that, I need to illustrate – even if it’s solely for my own enjoyment. With all that in mind, I started a Tumblr blog called Whimsy, Inc.. The premise is simple: setting aside an hour or so each week, I draw something – an animal, a cartoon, or perhaps a portrait of an actor I saw in a movie.
It’s funny – I’m getting to the point where I routinely become very jealous and bitter every time I see or hear about a successful illustrator. Wallowing in regret does more harm than good, however. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of failed experiments, a lot of promotion, and a lot of dedication behind every individual who manages to carve out a name for themselves in this highly competitive field. Anyone who can actually make a living off that earns my highest admiration. Real illustrators don’t sit around and whine… real illustrators do stuff.
Eight weeks into Whimsy, Inc., I find that I’m using a variety of materials but generally I’m sticking with improving my digital drawing skills, composition and color. In addition to the Wacom tablet (which I still haven’t gotten the hang of), I downloaded a set of Photoshop gouache brushes which have been a lot of fun to use.
“Wiggle” digital drawing for Illustration Friday.
Portrait of Merle Oberon in Lydia (1941).
Backyard scene of our dog, using colors from an Eyvind Earle study.
Portrait of Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972).
Last weekend, while cleaning out excess stuff in our garage, I came across this forgotten little acrylic-on-board study I once did back in the ’90s. Although the piece is somewhat derivative of Anthony Russo‘s art, it still appeals to what I’m continuing to strive for in art, and in life: simplicity. When doing art, the temptation is to keep adding on and adding on, when the most effective art (to me) continue to be the pieces that communicate an idea in just a few brush strokes or pen marks. Unfortunately, that concept is easier to think about than to actually do… but I keep trying.
That whole idea of whittling down a drawing to its essence also came to mind when I was perusing the illustrations for a piece of vintage paper ephemera that C. recently acquired. The imagery below comes from a booklet published by the Melamine Council to promote the proper use of plastic dinnerware. It might have been a lost cause in the ’50s and ’60s, trying to make these common household items look elegant and sophisticated, but in the context of this brochure it actually works – beautifully. The uncredited artist (or artists) did a masterful job of paring down the ideas of stylish living, feminine beauty, and cleanliness into simple – yet never simplistic – illustration.
John Alcorn “Birds & Beasts” illustration, 1966.
Browsing my contacts’ uploads at Pinterest, I was taken by some sweet, eye-catching art from illustrator John Alcorn. The imagery came from a 1966 book, The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs (which I tracked down – thank you, eBay). As someone who loves art inspired by that funky, stylish Push Pin Studios aesthetic, this volume was a winner. The 192-page book is a simple concept, presenting sheet music for classic kiddie singalongs such as “There Was An Old Lady” and “Did You Ever See A Lassie?” The retro display fonts and Alcorn’s inventive artwork complement the songs in a cute, very ’60s-patchwork kinda way.
Alcorn’s folksy, whimsical art made him a very active man in the ’60s and ’70s – his art graces the fabulous packaging for Eve cigarettes, for one. The Fireside project must have been a huge endeavor for him; just about every page is packed with drawings printed in hot pink, mustard gold and burnt orange. The sampling of pages pictured here nicely represent the book’s art, and yet I might break out the scanner and put some more on my flickr account. There’s a veritable bushel-full of wild, fun, inspirational imagery in here, which makes me happy I bought it.
The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs.
“The Animal Song”
“Good Morning and Good Night”
“All Through The Night”
“The World Turned Upside Down”
Endpapers, A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books (2012).
Shortly after being gifted with a nice, hefty Amazon gift card last month (thank you, Mom and Dad), the beautiful hardback collection A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books was the first thing I ended up choosing. While the immensely talented Mary Blair (1911-1978) is perhaps best known for her involvement with Walt Disney’s films and theme park attractions, she actually had a successful non-Disney career as an illustrator in the ’50s and ’60s. Treasury draws from this aspect of Blair’s art, reprinting the colorful, charming work she did for the Little Golden Book company. Along with a brief intro from animation historian John Canemaker, the book includes the full contents of four of her beloved Golden books – Baby’s House (1950), I Can Fly (1950), The Golden Book of Little Verses (1953), and The Up and Down Book (1964). Well-chosen selections from a fifth book, The New Golden Song Book (1955), are also included.
The first thing about A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books that struck me was how physically big it is – pages that were originally published in the classic, kid-sized Little Golden Books format are enlarged here by roughly a third. Another pleasant surprise is that much of the artwork is sourced from Blair’s original paintings, rendered in brilliant gouache. It really allows artsy nerds to get in there and study her technique. A few of the I Can Fly pages are lesser-quality scans from book pages, but at least they look as nice as they can (no noticeable moiré patterns or off-set colors). The artwork is pretty nifty, overall. I particularly enjoyed the pages from The Up and Down Book, since it shows her experimenting with a more graphic, simplified (yet still quintessentially Mary Blair-ish) style. Her work from the Golden Song Book is also notable for its wonderful intricacies and the skillful way some of it employs just two colors.
Paging through A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books makes it obvious why she continues to inspire artists and craftspeople. The book is available here (at a good price, I must add) at Amazon.com.
Blown Covers is a friendly competition put on each week by The New Yorker‘s Art Editor, Françoise Mouly, to create fake magazine covers based on a theme. From the high quality entries they receive each week, Mouly and her daughter, Nadja Spiegelman, have their work cut out for them with their judging duties. I’ve observed the winners for a few months now, but it’s only in the last two weeks that I decided to step up and contribute stuff to the contest. Below are my entries for the Food and Fashion-themed contests. Although neither made the selection for runners-up or winners, I had fun doing them and look forward to stretching my creative muscles attempting more. Trying to think up something both artistic and clever is tough, however (how did Peter Arno do it?).
By the way, although the contest stipulates that entries should be in sketch forms, so many winners end up looking like final artwork. It make me wonder where these people get the time for it, and very humbled that there are so many talented artists out there.
Today’s Flickr Friday is the piéce de résistance of all the vintage kiddie books that I’ve been blabbing about in the last few months. Originally published by Wonder Books in 1962, Faith McNulty’s Arty The Smarty was far and away the favorite book of mine as a child. When I recently came across my own childhood copy of this little treasure, it all came back to me as to why this particular book was so beloved. It was about a resourceful fish whose very difference from the other fishes made him special. It came as a shock, how much it resonated with me (and I have to wonder if there were any other gay/lesbian people who cherished this story as I did). Also, the snappy, clean illustrations by Albert Aquino were a revelation – exactly the style of illustration that I’m attempting to do to this day! I still don’t know much about Mr. Aquino and his career, but I really have to shake his hand for doing such great work on this book.
Some of the pages of Arty The Smarty are included below (note my name scrawled on the endpapers!), in addition to a few others I’ve placed in my Childhood Books, ’60s-’70s Flickr set.