Brigid Marlin

Brigid Marlin
Visionary artist Brigid Marlin was born in Washington, D.C., studied in Dublin, Paris and New York, and now lives and works in London, England. She eventually travelled to Vienna, specifically to learn the Mische Technique, a painstaking Renaissance painting method in which an ink drawing and detailed egg tempera painting form a basis on which layers of oil glazes are built into the final image.

The particulars of this old master technique, once thought lost, were revived by visionary artist Ernst Fuchs. (See my recent posts on Robert Venosa and Martina Hoffmann.) Marlin has a step-by-step demonstration of the technique on her site.

The galleries on Marlin’s web site vary from straightforward portraits, painted in the Mische Technique, to Visionary Paintings to Fantasy Portraits, where the two approaches collide.

Even her straightforward portraits can’t help but have a touch of atmosphere that has drifted in from the other worlds that Marlin frequents, infusing them with a touch of secret strangeness, as in this beautiful portrait, Girl in Bluebell Wood.

Marlin has painted portraits of several notable individuals. She was chosen as the first artist to paint an official portrait of the Dalai Lama, for which there is a fascinating story accompanying the images of the painting on her site. Her portrait of J.G. Ballard, an admiring quote from whom forms the introduction to Marlin’s site, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Unfortunately, Marlin’s own site may not be the best representation of her work. While there is a variety of her images, they are reproduced too small to get a good feeling for the detail and textural qualities of her work. (Though it’s worth noting that when in the gallery for Visionary Paintings, it’s easy to miss the text links at the top to galleries for two additional series of paintings.) There is a page of available giclee prints as well as a listing of available books.

I’ve listed below some other places on the web that you can see Marlin’s work. The largest reproductions I’ve found are on the Surrealism Now! site.

Brigid Marlin is also the founder of the Society for Art of the Imagination, the web site for which contains an extensive array of galleries of works by the society’s members, including a gallery Marlin’s work.

Though can see the bloodline of her visionary paintings reaching back through surrealist painters like Dali and Magritte (and perhaps even to Giorgio di Chirico), she becomes most intriguing for me when you can see her affection for Renaissance masters like Botticelli and the influence of underappreciated Surrealist greats like Paul Delvaux.

Bogota Painter William K. Moore

William K. Moore
William K. Moore appears to live with a foot, and brush, in two worlds. Originally from Los Angeles, he has spent many years living in Bogota, Columbia and chronicling both cities in photographs and paintings.

His primary blog, Bogota Painter William K. Moore, is set up as a “painting a day” blog. In it he concentrates on paintings of the people living in the center of Bogota. He has a particular affection for those on whom financial fortune has not smiled, but who manage to find their way through life with a strength of character that Moore attempts to capture in paint.

Moore works in a variety of media, occasionally oil and acrylic, but most often watercolor and gouache. Occasionally he will list an interesting media mix like “watercolor and grime”. The area of the city he captures most often is an industrial section that provides lots of rough and gritty buildings and objects as backgrounds for his portraits.

He briefly gives the story of his interaction with his subjects, how he often works out some kind of payment in exchange for permission to photograph them, and sometimes describes their circumstances, creating in the process a visual and verbal picture of a city unknown to most Americans.

He also mixes in paintings of his native Los Angeles, which provide an interesting contrast to life in Bogota.

There is a gallery of Moore’s work assembled on the Daily Painters Gallery. He also maintains a Spanish language blog presence in Bogota, Bogotá según William Moore, and a blog of Bogota Documentary Photos.

Shaun Tan (update)

Shaun Tan - The Arrival
When I first wrote about Australian illustrator and writer Shaun Tan back in March, it looked as though his site was on a server with limited bandwidth, which visits from lines and colors readers quickly overloaded. This unfortunately rendered his site inaccessible for several days, if not weeks, so many of you didn’t get to see it at the time.

Tan has revised his site, and added some striking new material from his most recent book, The Arrival (slated for US release in October), which are more than enough to warrant another visit. These are beautiful and fascinating pencil illustrations that tell their story without words. Though there is definitely a narrative, the actual story presented by the images is open to much interpretation and imaginative fancy on the part of the “reader”.

(Wonderful experimental narratives like this are one of the reasons you’ll hear me gripe about the misappropriation of the term “graphic novel” by the comic book industry to refer to any old bunch of comics with a book-like binding.)

Unfortunately, though improved in many ways, Tan’s new site is in frames (for reasons that elude me), and I can’t give you a direct link. Go to the picture books page and click on the cover of The Arrival.

If you haven’t seen Tan’s work be sure to investigate the rest of the site, particularly the other entries in the picture books section.

[Suggestion courtesy of Seven Withrow & Jack Harris]

Planning your web site

Planning your web site

How to Display Your Art on the Web: Part 4

[This is part of a series of articles for which the introduction and list of articles is here. If you haven’t read the introduction yet, it would be helpful to read it first.]

Hey! What’s with this “planning” stuff? I want to just start making my beautiful site design and get going!

Well, design is what I’m talking about, and planning is part of that, perhaps the most important part. If you were laying out a magazine ad, or a painting, you would rough out some preliminaries, do some sketches, or engage in some kind of brainstroming or planning in order to have some idea of what you were doing. Same, and even more so, with web site.

Perhaps you’re the type to start a cross-country trip with half a tank of gas and $1.45 in your pocket. If so, go right ahead and start your design; just don’t be surprised if you wind up in Tierra del Fuego instead of San Diego.

“Design”, for the benefit of the uninitiated, doesn’t just mean making something look good, though that’s certainly part of it. Good design, in print or on the web, is about making a something work, making it communicate something. It doesn’t matter how “pretty” or “cutting edge” a design is (or how many awards it’s won); if it doesn’t work, it’s bad design.

This factor is even more critical on the web than it is in print. A web site isn’t something you just look at or read, it’s something you use; which is why a web site is often referred to as an interface (not in yer face, though that happens too), meaning a layer of control that allows a human to interact with a machine or program. The palettes, windows and tools in Photoshop, for example, are an interface designed to allow users of the application to create and edit images (or paint superhero costumes on pictures of fashion models).

The purpose of a web site interface can vary, based on the overall purpose of the site, which is the first key decision you must make as a designer.

What is the purpose of your site?
Sounds like a rhetorical question, but think about it. Are you exposing your work to potential painting buyers? Gallery owners? Art directors? Publishers? Web comic readers? Are you selling originals or prints directly over the web? Are you chronicling your artistic progress in a blog as part of your learning process? Are you selling books? Impressing someone who sits next to you in your art history class? What exactly do you want your shiny new web site to do?

The answer may be less than simple, and composed of several of the above elements or others, but it’s important that you understand it, and if the intention is multi-fold, determine the order of importance.

The site map (outline version)
Once you understand what you are trying to accomplish with your site, you need to decide what content you’re going to include. Your bio? Links to all your friends’ sites? How-to demonstrations? Listings of gallery shows? Older work? Preliminary or alternate versions? Art outside your specialty?

The way to answer this question is to focus on the one above. What is the purpose of your site and what will contribute to that purpose? Also, consider what will detract from it. If you want to include extra stuff, that’s not specifically on target, but you feel may enhance the site and make it more interesting, that’s fine as long as it doesn’t detract from or hinder the site’s actual purpose. In deciding what to include, and how to name, prioritize and arrange the pages that will contain that material, you should make a simple site map.

On the web, a “site map” can be a page on a web site with links to every other page in the site, often arranged as a hierarchical outline, and is usually only needed for large, potentially confusing sites. However, it also refers to a preliminary plan of a site, used for building it, something necessary even for the smallest sites.

Even if you choose to make a fancy flow chart style diagram with something like OmniGraffle or Concept Draw, you still start with a simple text outline. Write a list of the pages in your site. It may be a simple, flat list, but if you break a section like the portfolio down into sub-sections, arrange them under the heading for Portfolio as sub-categories. They will become links referred to as sub-navigation (and no, I’m not talking about piloting Jules Verne’s Nautilus). You’re planning both your pages, and the navigation part of your interface.

A simple site map might look like this:

Home
About the Artist
Portfolio
      Recent work
      Selected Pieces
      Older Work
Contact
Links

The first rank is the main navigation, visible on every page; the subsections, or sub-navigation, for the Portfolio section might only be visible when you are in that section.

Obviously, the naming of sub-sections in the Portfolio (or “Gallery”) section would vary depending on the type of art you’re presenting. Illustrations or gallery paintings might be arranged by genre, webcomics pages by date or story line, concept art by project, etc.; but the overall naming of web site sections should follow one important rule:

Don’t make me guess.
Or, to quote the title of a book on web site usability by Steve Krug that I will recommend heartily, Don’t make me think.

If you want me to look at your work, regardless of whether I’m an art director, gallery owner, potential buyer, webcomics reader, art blog writer or your aunt’s second cousin, don’t discourage me! Don’t do anything to make me pause, slow down, hesitate, get confused, discouraged or annoyed or put any kind of potential barrier between me and your work. If you do, I will go away.

It only takes one click, the work of milliseconds, for me to leave your site for one of the ten billion other sites out there.

If it takes me one click to go away and five to drill down to your portfolio, I will go away. If you make me wait through your 30 second, animated Flash intro before I can get to your navigation, I will go away. If you make me look for a little “Enter Site” button hidden somewhere on a splash page before I can get to the navigation, I will go away. If you befuddle me with an enigmatic design, or confuse me with clever conceptual names for your links, I will curse you and your unborn children for making me feel like a fool, and then I will go away.

When it comes to navigation design, there are three important principles: clarity, consistency and ease of use. Did I mention clarity?

If you think an artsy, “clever”, or “cutting edge” concept for your web space is going to make potential visitors so intrigued they’ll spend time guessing about where your portfolio is, or what “Super Whizzyness” means as a link name, you’re sadly mistaken. Your friends and fans will tell you how awesome it is; art directors and gallery owners won’t, because they will be long gone.

I’m not saying you can’t be creative or clever with your design, far from it; but if you’re really creative and clever, you’ll design a site that is clear and easy to use, as well as attractive and interesting.

The home page
Hoo-boy! Home pages are the most problematic in any web site. Since everyone perceives them as the most important page in the site, and rightly so, they are most often the worst page in the site, as “important” item after “important” item is crammed onto their fragile little camel’s back, until they look like a K-Mart aisle as seen through kaleidoscopic glasses.

Here’s the rule: The more things you put on your home page, the less important each of them becomes; and the less effective the home page is as a whole.

If you walk into a big social gathering and 20 people in your immediate vicinity are talking, the chances that you will be able to focus on what any one person is saying are slim. If, on the other hand, only three people are talking, you can pretty easily pick which one to focus on, and if only one person is talking, there is no doubt.

A home page should speak clearly, and should immediately and unequivocally answer three questions for a visitor who has, by any of several avenues, come to it:

What kind of web site is this?
Is there anything here of interest to me?
If so, how do I get to it?

You want your target audience to say “Yes” to the second question, and not have to slow down and guess about either of the other two.

Focus your home page on introducing yourself to new visitors. Returning visitors are more likely to go to the trouble of clicking in to other content. It’s amazing how many artists’ sites have these priorities reversed.

If you feel the need to put news on the home page, stick in a column to one side. If you urgently need to list your current gallery opening or new images, put them to the side or “below the fold”, after the first screen depth worth of content. If a visitor doesn’t get those three questions answered, they won’t stick around to figure out who you are and why they should care where your next gallery opening is.

Put at least one of your best images on the home page; make it integral to the design. The images are what’s it’s about, put them to good use in the service of answering those three questions. Your images should be part of answer to both of the first two questions. If you’re tempted to put lots of them on the home page, remember the social gathering image. One or two (or maybe a short, subtle, rotating slide show, if you can do one well) should be enough.

Where to guide them
Good web site designs don’t just offer navigation to where the user wants to go, they offer a gentle but firm nudge in the direction you, as the site owner, want them to go. Just where that is comes back to that first question about the purpose of your site. Presumably you want them to see your work (and I’ll talk specifically about Portfolio or Gallery page design in a future post), but once they have seen your work do you want them to contact you? By email or other means? Are you selling something directly? Do you want them to join a mailing list? Do you want them to come back often? Are you directing them elsewhere (eBay, PayPal, Amazon or the site of a brick and mortar gallery)? All of the above?

When you understand your focus, make this process as simple and easy as possible.

All about you
For most of the purposes I can think of for an artist’s site, information about the artist, history, accomplishments, accolades, reviews, materials and process, is not only relevant but essential. Do I want buy a painting from someone I know nothing about? Do I want to give an illustration assignment to someone whose background, and potential reliability, is a mystery? Do I want to spend my time reading a webcomic that is going to go nowhere? Am I interested enough to contact this artist about their work?

Give me, the art director, editor, gallery owner, potential buyer, webcomics reader, or other visitor, enough background to feel comfortable with my potential interaction with you and your work. Think Goldilocks — not too much, not too little, just enough.

Contact
Even if direct contact is not the point of the site, you should offer some means of contact. It may be indirect, through a publisher, rep or other intermediary, or something that doesn’t involve an email address, like Contact Form. The latter can be handled well or poorly, but it’s better than no avenue of contact at all. (Even if it’s just a way for someone to tell you part of your site is displaying wonky, which you may not be aware of.)

If you post your email address, do it in a way that protects you from spammers’ email harvesting robots. i.e. a JavaScript encoding of the email link, or using a phrase like “cparker (at) zark.com”, or an image of the address, rather than a live link that the harvester bots will recognize.

If you really want to encourage contact, put your (protected) email address on the footer of every page, in addition to having a dedicated Contact page.

Links
While not necessary, a page of links to other sites can add a bit of interest and serves the additional purpose of encouraging others to link to your site, in the hope of a link back. (Make them relevant and well-chosen, I’m not suggesting you engage in random “link exchanges”.) Incoming links from other sites, particularly relevant and highly ranked ones, are a factor in search engine optimization (which I will also address in a future post).

Putting it together
Armed with your site map, knowledge of navigation issues, and clear sense of the purpose of your site, you can more confidently design the site’s look and feel. Form follows function.

Resources:

Diagraming and visualization software list from Vitaly Friedman

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

Web Site Design from w3schools
Basics of Website Design from Penn State University
Site Planning Basics from eFuse
Web Design Basics from SteveDawson.com
How to Make a Website of Your Own from Mardiros Internet Marketing
Web Design Basics from About.com

Next: Designing your site – ooooooh, pretty!

Mike Wieringo dies at 44

Mike WieringoI was shocked and saddened to learn earlier this week that comic book artist Mike Wieringo had died at the age of 44, apparently from a sudden heart attack.

Wieringo was a bright spot in the landscape of contemporary American comics. I wrote about his work back in 2005 and again in 2006.

Though he had been in mainstream comics for some time, I first really noticed Wieringo’s work in Tellos, his creator owned fantasy series in which he collaborated with writer Todd DeZago. I then went back and looked up some of his work for DC and continued to follow him through his terrific run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four.

Some thought his bright, lively and somewhat cartoonish style was inappropriate for the supposedly “serious” title (which is absurd, the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stories that set the standard for the title were hilarious, and it was really a send-up of DC’s stick-in-the-mud superhero group titles at the time). Marvel took Wieringo and writer Mark Waid off the book only to be inundated with waves of protest from readers who, like myself, thought they were doing a terrific job and wanted more. Marvel quickly relented and Waid and Wieringo completed their planned run on the series.

A good chunk of that series was reprinted in the hardback collections Fantastic Four, Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4 and Vol 6. (I think Vol 5 featured different artists.) These are the slightly oversized hardback reprints that I think make a great showcase for these comics. The little bit of extra size is enough to make a nice difference in how the artwork looks and this series is a good introduction to Wireingo’s work if you’re not familiar with it. You can also get paperback collections of the Tellos series.

Wirengo was a long-time blogger and his blog Mike’s Personal Soapbox was one of the first I listed in my sidebar when I started writing lines and colors. His website was recently re-designed.

There is a thoughtful remembrance by Cully Hamner on Newsarama, which gives you some insight into Mike as a person, and lists two charities that the family has listed in lieu of flowers, The Hero Initiative and the ASPCA.

Mike Wieringo drew numerous memorable comic book covers, like the one above from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #4.

[Notice via Newarama and Drawn!]

 

D.B. Johnson

D. B. Johnson
Within the hyper-kenitic, urgently frantic and tightly wound mechanism of modern culture, a culture that that does its best to devalue anything that is not shiny, new, expensive and fast, it’s easy to overlook or forget the quiet power of one of America’s great writer/philsophers, Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience, and his paean to a life of simplicity and contemplation (and devaluation of consumerism) in Walden, along with his long time anti-slavery and anti-war stance, advocacy of tax protest, philosophy about working for things other than financial gain, fondness for vegetarianism, hiking and canoeing, support of native Americans, writings that presage modern concerns for the ecosystem, and early support of Darwin’s theory of evolution, made him a darling of the counter-culture in the 1960’s, and an anathema of the the hard line neo-conservative right, whose influence has devalued his place in the curriculums of contemporary American grade schools. (His importance and influence may be better known to schoolchildren in Europe than here in the U.S.)

Freelance illustrator D.B. Johnson, who has done illustrations, comics, and editorial cartoons for numerous publications, has obviously not forgotten or overlooked the insights Thoreau passed on to us.

A few years ago, Johnson wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (online preview), in which a bear named Henry walks to Fitchburg, encountering rich life experiences along the way, in contrast to his well-dressed friend, who elects to spend his time working for train fare in order reach the same destination rapidly and in style.

The result is a wonderfully subtle introduction to Thoueau’s contemplative and healthy antidote to our speed-obsessed, consumerism-mad culture.

In the same way that Henry’s walk is enriched by his contact with nature, our travels with Henry and his friend, and the a gentle introduction to Thoreau’s philosophy, are enriched with Johnson’s illustrations, which are simply extraordinary.

His marvelous textures, subtle but lively colors and wonderful characters draw on the traditions of classic as well as modern children’s book illustration, and present them as seen through Cubist spectacles.

Johnson’s remarkable compositions seem to have an invisible lattice of angular shapes beneath them, the forms of which are revealed at the edges and intersections of objects and areas of color. The result is a feeling of coherence, within which are arrayed a wealth of visual elements. These never fight one another, always seeming to put themselves in service of the focus of the overall composition.

Buildings, fences, trees and roads sit at odd angles in defiance of gravity and perspective, yet it all seems so comfortable and natural you’re never distracted by it; and if, like Thoreau, you slow down and contemplate, you’ll be rewarded with visual richness in areas of the images that take on a life of their own and speak voulmes.

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg was a critical and popular success; and Johnson followed up with similarly themed books, Henry Builds a Cabin, Henry Climbs a Mountain and now, Henry Works, in which the stories, if anything, become richer and more subtle and the art more dazzling.

In Henry Climbs a Mountain (preview here), Henry is put in jail for not paying taxes in objection to supporting a state that advocates slavery (as the real Henry was). Henry the man wrote of venturing into his own mind as if on a journey; Henry the bear, in Johnson’s tale, escapes into his own drawings on the cell wall, in a manner reminiscent of one of my favorite children’s books, Crockett Johnson’s wonderful Harold and the Purple Crayon.

In sharp contrast to the “you must buy this book to see it” attitude of most publishers and retailers on the web, D.B. Johnson has posted online previews of his books on his web site (click into the individual titles and look for the “read online” link).

There are also tantalizing hints of galleries of Johnson’s other illustration work and comics, but they are unfortunately not filled out yet. There are limited edition prints available.

In the About the Artist section, there is an interview with the artist and a nice step by step breakdown of how he creates the illustrations for the Henry books. This is particularly fascinating in that he works in a painstaking process with airbrush and friskets that is planned around the colors used in the four-color printing process, and the order in which they are applied, yellow, cyan, magenta and black (Maxfield Parrish planned his colors around the same concern). Johnson then goes in with colored pencils adding details and texture.

My only reservation about the presentation of the art on his site is that, though the images are of adequate size, none of them are reproduced large enough to get a real flavor of the work in its printed form. Do yourself a favor the next time you’re at the bookstore, and stop by the children’s section and pick up a copy of one of his books long enough to look at the illustrations.

You may find yourself walking out of the store, a copy of the book under your arm (along with a copy of Thoreau’s Walden, if you don’t have one), with a smile on your face, and perhaps, keeping pace to a different drummer.