He who knows how to appreciate colour relationships, the influence of one colour on another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinitely diverse imagery.
- Sonia Delaunay
Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.
- Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lok Jansen

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:30 am

Lok JansenArchitecture is not only a fascinating art in itself, it’s a wonderful subject for other visual arts. In particular the architectural structure of cities, with all of the rich detail of interlocking geometry, makes for fascinating subjects.

Lok Jansen is an architect and illustrator living in Tokyo. There is something about the amazing and unique three dimensional space and complex structures of Tokyo that has an impact on artists. Jansen’s response, as both an architect an illustrator, has been multi-fold. His site features photos, sketches, visual essays on architecture and illustrations.

The illustrations show a fascination with the city as complex architectural and sculptural forms, textured with mechanical structures like bark on a tree.

He writes: “The metropolis to me, is like an organism. Growing. The tech seems almost organic. Highways, train lines, fly-overs, aircons, ducts, wires – they’re so wild its almost like greenery.”

Jansen’s linear response to these forms brings to mind the drawings of manga artists and anime background artists who specialize in architectural rendering, as well as the memory drawings of Tokyo by Steven Wiltshire and the complex comic art backgrounds of Geof Darrow. All seem to respond to the intricate topography of Tokyo as an expression of line.

Jansen’s site also includes drawings and sketches of other subjects from direct observation or flights of imagination. There are images of his design work, often involving three dimensional spaces , a large scale mural of the history of Europe and a fascinating illustrated essay on the current and potential use of space in Tokyo called Tokyo Parasito.

I particularly enjoy Jansen’s drawings of what appear to be layers of buildings and streets abstracted into block-like forms floating in space.


Posted in: Illustration   |   2 Comments »

Monday, May 22, 2006

Alexander Calder

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:38 pm

Alexander CalderWe think of drawing, naturally enough, as lines or shapes on paper. Similarly, we think of sculpture as forms in space, particularly solid forms. Rarely do we think of drawing as three dimensional or sculpture as lines.

When I was younger I was fascinated with drawing telephone wires and the transformers on the poles that they intersected with because they seemed to be lines drawn in the air, lines in three dimensions, which I just thought was unbelievably cool. Then I discovered Alexander Calder.

Calder drew with lines in space. His remarkable constructions of twisted wire, metal and wood redefined sculpture and are wonderful excursions into drawing with lines in three dimensional space. His wonderful objects loop, swirl, and bounce their way through the air with the freedom of a Miro drawing and carve up space into amazingly playful forms like Henry Moore at his best.

Most of us have followed in Calder’s footsteps as children when we construct mobiles in art classes. Calder essentially invented the concept of a “mobile”, a sculputural construction in which shapes, often of metal, are suspended in a balanced arrangement from wires, most often in a way that allows for motion. These kinetic sculptures are usually suspended from the ceiling of a room or other space.

Calder’s familiar hanging mobiles actually evolved from earlier versions, kinetic sculptures of similar construction that were meant to sit on a flat surface and whose shapes incorporated elements that acted as a base or footing. He later went on to investigate more traditional sculptures that exhibited the same feeling, but in the swooping intersections of static forms; which Jean Arp named “stabiles”.

One of the delights of my frequent visits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is glancing up at the crazy cool Calder mobile called Ghost that hangs in all of its kinetic glory in the Great Stair Hall of the museum. Calder was born here in Philadelphia and the city has several fine examples of his work, including a large mobile and stabile on and near the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Calder sculpture in Philadelphia is a family tradition. If you ask people about a family of artists from the Delaware Valley with three generations of working artists, they will inevitably think of the Wyeths, most are unaware of the Calders.

Calder’s father, Stirling Calder was also a Philadelphia sculptor, and his grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, created the giant sculpture of William Penn on the top of City Hall Tower that is one of the prime symbols of the city. A.M. Calder also created more than 250 other sculptures for the building (which some not-too-bright politicians wanted tear down and replace with a “modern” office building some years ago, but were fortunately voted down).

Unfortunately, plans to honor the grandson and inventor of the mobile, Alexander “Sandy” Calder, with a museum here have been abandoned.

The Calder Foundation administers much of his work and looks after his legacy. The site has some good resources even if the arrangement isn’t the best.

You can’t experience Calder from photographs, though. You have to inhabit the same room with one of his delightful kinetic marvels to really get a feeling for how they liven up the three dimensional space in which they exist. The Artcyclopedia page for Calder lists museums that have his work on display, try to see some in person.

Then, you may be tempted to take up your own bits of wire and metal and “mobilize” your creativity to capture some of that playful balance that was Alexander Calder’s genius.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hiroshi Yoshida

Posted by Charley Parker at 12:30 pm

Hiroshi Yoshida
Hiroshi Yoshida devoted the first part of his career to painting. In his late 40′s he moved into woodblock printing and became one of the major artists of the “shin hanga” (“new print”) movement. Yoshida was one of the first major woodblock printers in Japan to step outside the traditional separation of skills in which wood block prints were prepared by artists who individually took on the role of designer, block carver and printer.

Yoshida’s quietly beautiful landscapes are composed of delicate linework enlivened with soft but somehow vivid colors. Like many Japanese printmakers, he suggests even more than he shows, and his deceptively simple images carry an uncanny emotional resonance.

Like his contemporary Kawase Hasui, who I profiled back in January, Yoshida had superb control over atmospheric perspective and excelled at the depiction of light and reflections on the surface of water.

Also like Hasui, Yoshida traveled extensively on sketching expeditions, although Yoshida’s travels extended well outside Japan to North America, Europe, North Africa, India and other parts of Asia. His images display a broad range of subjects not normally encountered in Japanese prints, including places more familiar to western eyes like Yosemite and Niagra Falls, perhaps helping those of us with an untrained eye to differentiate style from subject.

The image shown above, Sekishozan – Shizhongshan (Jizuri) is from China.

As a result of his travels Yoshida also was exposed to influences of stye from western art that he subtly incorporated into his own unique style.

The Hanga Gallery includes more prints from European and North American subjects than the Artlino Art Auctions, but the latter features larger scale images of his work (click on the image for an enlargement), which I highly recommend.

In either case, I hope you can set aside some time to spend with Yoshida’s sublime images. Like many aspects of arts from Japan and other parts of eastern Asia, I find that contemplation is rewarded.

Link courtesy of Lok Jansen.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Michael Sowa

Posted by Charley Parker at 2:07 pm

Michael SowaThere is a world in which pigs dive into ponds like olympic athletes, play with balls of string like cats or wallow in your soup bowl, sheep work as accountants in the meadow, cats return to the door with their arms in a sling, dogs attend Victrola concerts, rabbits stand on their ears as street performers, wear trenchcoats and ride bicycles, and Guinea hens wear pearl necklaces.

It is the world of German artist and illustrator Michael Sowa, whose mildly surreal images tweak your brain just enough to make you stop and smile.

Sowa is obviously influenced by the logic-teasing juxtapositions of Rene Magritte, to which he adds an affection for charmingly painted childrens book scenes and a bit of pop culture.

There is a collection of his art: Sowa’s Ark : An Enchanted Bestiary, and there are children’s books by Axel Hacke for which he did the illustrations: A Bear Called Sunday and The Little King December.

Sowa has also done a little bit of movie production art, notably for Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, for which he did production art, and the charming Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (The Fabulous destiny of Amelie Poulian, released in the U.S. as simply Amelie), for which Sowa did matte painting and provided images that were used in the film (on the wall in Amelie’s bedroom). This post was prompted obliquely by the fact that Audrey Tautou, who was the delightful lead in Amelie, is currently appearing in The DaVinci Code (in which she gets to do very little).

Most of the art available on the web for Sowa is in the form of posters and note cards, So I’ve given links below to some of those sites. His work in never reproduced big enough, but at least you can get a glimpse into that world where giraffes take canoe rides, rabbits ride trains, sushi rolls swim in the ocean, men take dog-sized elephants for a walk, birthday cakes are launched from catapults, rhinos play the trumpet and, oh yes,… pigs fly.

Posted in: Illustration   |   6 Comments »

Friday, May 19, 2006

La Giaconda (The Mona Lisa),
flipped for your viewing pleasure

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:06 am

La Giaconda
Sometimes the hardest things to see are the things that are in front of us most often. The familiar, the commonplace and the clichéd pull a veil over our eyes that dull us to their real appearance. So it is with Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait of a wealthy Florentine woman, most likely Lisa Gherardini, wife of silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

Paintings from this period usually come to us named by someone other then the artist, years after they have left the artist’s studio. “La Giaconda” (or “La Joconde” in French) is a reference to the subject of the portrait as del Giocondo’s wife (and may also be wordplay meaning “light hearted”), while “Mona Lisa” simply means “Madam Lisa” or “Lady Lisa”.

The painting is almost impossible to see without peeling away layer after layer of cultural debris. The image has been reproduced, copied, morphed, written about, sung about, used in advertising and entertainment, and is generally woven into the fabric of or culture like no other work of art. There is a rather amazing site called Mona Lisa on the Web that pulls together links to over 600 Mona Lisa resources. Most of them are modifications, image mashups, animations, alternate faces, cartoons and such, and some are actually informational.

No other image has been so thoroughly modified and parodied, perhaps starting with Marcel Duchamp’s infamous mustache and goatee back in 1919. I even had my own bit of fun with her in this page from my webcomic in the mid-90′s. (Click on the image to see another bit of Mona License “underneath”.) I had my way with her again as a dinosaur cartoon.

On top of the long history of fascination with this particular painting, there is, of course, a new wave of Mona Mania sparked by all of the hype surrounding The Da Vinci Code. Even the venerable Louvre itself is bending to the winds of popular culture with Da Vinci Code Soundwalks.

Popular books and movies that bring attention and interest to great works of art are a Good Thing, and I’m glad whenever people who don’t normally pay attention to art drop by the art world for a looksee.

The challenge for those of us already here is to look at iconic images like La Giaconda and see them fresh, as paintings, the way they were meant to be seen.

One of the important tricks I learned as an illustrator and comic artist is how to see an overworked image freshly by looking at it in a mirror. This is much easier on the computer, and I have deliberately flipped the images of Dearest Mona here (or “flopped” for you graphic artists out there – OK, I admit it, I’m a flip-flopper). Anyway, I’ve reversed them left to right so you can at least get a momentary glimpse of the painting with fresh eyes.

Now look at her enigmatic smile (turned up on one end, straight on the other), her “not quite looking at you” gaze, the angelic hands, painted as if tenderly caressed by Leonardo’s brush, his wonderful sfumato blending, and his dramatic imaginary landscape with its beautiful aerial perspective, fantastic mountains, oddly snakelike winding road, arched bridge and slim hints of foreground architecture; not to mention the oddly “wrong” horizon, in which the two sides of the background do not seem to be aligned.

When you want to look at her right-way-’round again, you can see the original image on the Musée du Louvre site.

I had an extraordinary opportunity to see the actual painting under very favorable circumstances when I was in Paris a few years ago. It was the last night of our first visit to Paris and we had been to the Musée d’Orsay during our stay, but not yet to the Louvre. It was a Friday night and the museum was open late, but only particular galleries. The Italian Masters gallery was one of them, however, and we found, at the end of the gallery at the end of the night, that we had La Giaconda almost to ourselves, sharing the entire gallery with only 5 or 6 people.

I have to say that I was not expecting anything beyond Leonardo’s usual brilliance. I had seen several of his wonderfully accomplished paintings and drawings before, and was perhaps expecting something less from the “most famous painting in the world”, probably just because it was such a cliché and weighed down by so much cultural baggage.

I was surprised. I was wrong. I was astonished. Many clichés have a basis in truth and the legendary status of La Giaconda is one of them. The painting is extraordinary, captivating, mysterious, alluring, enigmatic, and, of course, painted with supreme mastery. My personal reaction to seeing Mona Lisa in person was not so much fascination with the way she smiles, but delight in the way she made me smile.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Will Elder

Posted by Charley Parker at 8:44 am

Will Elder
It’s tempting to think of the comics art form as being most closely related to illustration. It is composed, after all, of drawn images. In reality it is much closer to its celluloid and electronic relatives, film and television. This is not because of the cross-over combination of animated cartoons, but because of the more direct relationship of mediums made up of images in sequence (moving or not) that tell a story.

In this context, good comics artists fill multiple roles as directors, cinematographers and actors, composing a scene, framing it and then acting it out. In their role as actors, comics artists must convey in their drawings of the characters the body language, expressions, movements and gestures that live actors naturally possess.

You will even find comics artists who act out a scene before drawing it. When creating comics myself, I would often be drawing quietly only to have my wife walk into the room and burst out laughing, reacting to the fact that. without realizing it, I was grimacing wildly as I unconsciously made the facial expressions I was trying to draw.

If comics artists are the actors of this medium, Will Elder is its comic genius, the Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin of the comics story.

There are many comics artists who draw humorous stories or daily strips, but Will (sometimes “Bill”) Elder’s drawings can send me rolling even without words. His hilariously exaggerated drawings have most often been teamed with the brilliant comic writing of Harvey Kurtzman. Together they are a one-two knockout punch to the funny bone.

I first encountered Elder’s wonderfully twisted, and fantastically expressive comics in paperback reprints of the E.C. Mad comics from the early 1950′s. (See my post on Wally Wood, and my description of why I started lines and colors and why I started to draw comics as a kid.) Though I was more taken with Wood as an artist, it was Elder whose hilariously exaggerated character positions, wild expressions and manic actions made me laugh the most.

Kurtzman and Elder delighted in the comical destruction of classic comic strips, movies, books and cultural icons of all kinds. Along with Wally Wood, Jack Davis and John Severin, they produced some of the funniest and most brilliantly drawn humor comics ever created.

In addition to adding his outlandishly loopy drawing style and comedic “acting” talents to the work, Elder would fill the backgrounds of his panels with dozens of amazing little sight gags. If Elder’s drawings and Kurtzman’s writing weren’t enough to turn my impressionable little mind into radioactive gook, these just put me over the top.

Elder’s panels filled with sight gags also laid the groundwork for the other Mad artists to follow, and even suggesting the “stuff in as many gags as you can” approach later seen in movies like Airplane and Blazing Saddles. Note in the image above from Elder and Kurtzman’s parody of The Shadow, the items falling out of Margo’s purse, the objects lying on the stairs and the gags written on the risers of the steps, as well as the totally incidental character added to the second panel.

Elder also did commercial illustration for a number of mainstream publications like The Saturday Evening Post and more straightforward comics for E.C. titles like Front Line Combat and Two-Fisted Tales, but it was in the humor comics of Mad, Humbug, Help and Hugh Hefner’s Trump, that Elder really shined. It was Elder, in fact, who did the first rendition of Mad’s toothy idiot Alfred E. Neuman, who illustrators Kelly Freas and Norman Mingo would take and develop into the character as we know and love him.

Little Annie fannyKurtzman and Elder continued their comic partnership when Hefner offered them a slot for a humor comic in Playboy. They essentially took their Goodman Beaver character, a wonderfully snide take-off of the wholesome Archie comics, reworked the concept as a humorously naive, chaste but exaggeratedly sexy woman in a sex-themed parody of Little Orphan Annie and created Little Annie Fanny.

At Hefner’s urging, Elder developed a unique watercolor and tempera approach for the comic, without the traditional black outlines to hold the color, instead using fullly developed, highly rendered forms, much more like magazine illustration than comics. This, as far as I know, was the first real example of “painted” comics, a format now being successfully popularized by Alex Ross and others. Elder was occasionally assisted on the strip by veteran comics artists Russ Heath, Larry Siegel and the amazing Frank Frazetta, as well as several Mad artists including Al Jaffee and the great Jack Davis.

There are great reprints of many the Little Annie Fanny strips in two trade paperback editions from Dark Horse Comics: Little Annie Fanny, Volume 1 and Little Annie Fanny, Volume 2: 1970-1988. If you think you remember Little Annie Fanny as just a sexy Playboy comic, go back and read it again. It was a sophisticated, often hilarious and beautifully crafted series of pop culture parodies that define their era as well as anything from the time.

Elder’s official site has been pared down to just books and prints. There is an article and interview on Mad Mumblings, and an interview from The Comics Journal.

A good tribute book was recently published: Will Elder: The MAD Playboy of Art (with Daniel Clowes), and look for Chicken Fat: Drawings, Sketches, Cartoons and Doodles.

There are also reprints of some of his best Mad work in “Mad About the Fifties, and the terrific “Mad Reader” black and white paperback reprint series that originally detonated the cartooning bomb in my own adolescent brain: The Mad Reader , Mad Strikes Back, Inside Mad, Utterly Mad and Brothers Mad. There you can see Elder’s wild, brazen, hyper and sublime drawings in all of their brain-exploding glory.

If there was an Oscar for comedic acting in comics, the lifetime achievement award would go to Will Elder.

Posted in: ComicsIllustration   |   2 Comments »

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Chris Moore

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:39 am

Chris Moore
Clarity is something we all hope for when thinking about the future. Clarity is also an ideal that some artists, notably science fiction artists, strive for when depicting the future. Chris Moore is a British illustrator whose visions of other words and other times are focused to razor sharpness.

His sci-fi work has a refined, high-tech intricacy and often depicts vistas of the future on a grand scale, utilizing a fine command of atmospheric perspective. He also has a knack for portraying robots that display both subtle and not-so-subtle human characteristics.

He works in both traditional media, usually acrylics, and digitally, though his style across the two types of media is quite consistent.

Moore has illustrated major science fiction novels by greats like Phillip K. Dick and Alfred Bester. He has also done album covers for performers like Fleetwood mac, Journey and The Allman Brothers band, as well as lesser known but terrific bands like Pentangle and Lindisfarne.

Although not a major direction in his career, Moore has done film concept work for George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick.

There is a book on his work and technique, published in 2000, Journeyman: the Art of Chris Moore. He is also featured in Fantasy Art Masters: The Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Artists Show How They Work by Dick Jude which includes a number of his preliminary sketches and the finished works they correspond to.

His online gallery also includes still lifes, portraits and landscapes. Unfortunately your enjoyment of the images will be slightly marred by the fact that Moore has felt it necessary to watermark the images. The effect is not overwhelming, however and some of the images survive better than others, depending on where the mark lies across lighter areas of the image.

On the plus side, the large images are good sized and allow you to get some idea of the wonderful detail and scale in Moore’s work. If you get the chance to see his work in books, or even better in person, as I did at an exhibit of sic-fi art at Weidner University several years ago, you will see clearly that he is one of the best in the field.

Addendum: Jane Frank’s Wow-Art.com site has Chris Moore original art for sale. Use the “Search by Artist” feature in the left column.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

handprint : watercolors and
watercolor painting

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:16 am

handprint : watercolors and watercolor paintinghandprint is the personal site of Bruce MacEvoy. The home page displays an unlabeled group of eight graphic symbols reflecting entry points to the sections of the site, which are a rather bizarre amalgam of his personal interests, from literary experiments to essays on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, human evolution and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

One of the symbols is a simplified representation color wheel. Beneath this lies one of the most comprehensive and extensive painting resource sites on the web.

Starting with a guide to watercolor papers, moving on through brushes and paints. In each case the subjects are broken down into sub-sections dealing with history, manufacture, and the details of how to choose between the bewildering array of brands, styles and degrees of quality.

He then goes into selecting palettes, from simple to advanced arrays of colors, and detailed sections on color mixing, color theory and the use of various kinds of color wheels, including a nice one in which painters’ colors are arrayed on a color wheel so you can tell where, for example, venetian red sits relative to burnt sienna in terms of hue and intensity. (There is a larger, downloadable PDF version of this color wheel.)

There is even an extensive section on vision, optics and color perception. His section on techniques not only includes watercolor specific techniques like laying a wash and preparing watercolor papers, but other skills like basic perspective and modeling forms with value and color. Some sections, techniques in particular, are still under development as indicated by names of future topics that are not currently linked.

There is also a section on books, once again extensive, in which MacEvoy reviews and recommends titles on a variety of topics, from learning the basics to advanced color theory. In addition he lists and reviews major art retailers.

Ths site also contains some examples of MacEvoy’s own recent work, which is anything but showcased, you actually have to dig a bit to find it. His style seems as inquisitively eclectic as the topics on the home page of the handprint site, and features some figure painting, portraits and plein air landscapes that are very appealing.

MacEvoy has also posted a journal of thoughts and observations on painting that would make a web site in itself, as would many of the sections and sub-sections of this surprisingly deep site.

As if all of this weren’t enough, under the modest link “artists” is a wonderful section of illustrated essays on dozens of watercolor artists, from botanical and topographical illustrators to greats like Constable, Eakins, Homer and Sargent. Wow.

The site is an amazing resource, unfortunately marred by a less than ideal navigation system and his bizarre decision (what was he thinking?!) to center his columns of text, rendering them unnecessarily difficult to read. (Fortunately this practice isn’t carried to all pages, but it’s prevalent enough to be annoying.)

Don’t let that give you a moment’s pause, though. Anyone with any interest at all in watercolor, color theory, color mixing, vision, artist materials and techniques should check out the watercolors and watercolor painting section of handprint.

Display Ads on Lines and Colors (1st tier): $25/week or $75/month.

Please note that display ads for lines and colors are limited to arts related topics and may not be animated.
Display Ads on Lines and Colors (2nd tier): $20/week or $65/month.

Please note that display ads for lines and colors are limited to arts related topics and may not be animated.

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