Eric Orchard

Eric Orchard is a Canadian illustrator whose book credits include Anything but Hank! written by Rachel Lebowitz, Zachariah Wells, A Forest for Christmas, written by Michael Harris, and The Terrible Horrible Smelly Pirate written by Carrie Muller and Jacqueline Halsey.

His painted comics work include a story for Scholastic called Robot Museum, which is an offshoot of a longer project Orchard has had in the works for a long time (image above, bottom right, larger version here).

Orchard’s drawings and paintings, done with loose, informal linework and textural passages of watercolor or gouache, can have a charming, almost innocent feeling, while still edged with darker themes.

Orchard seems to have, at least for the time being, abandoned his dedicated web site in favor of his blog and another Revolving Portfolio blog. He also has a small gallery on toonpool.

On his blog you’ll find a variety of posts about his projects, in progress or finished, sketches, drawings and bits of personal news, as well as mentions of other artists he finds interesting. I’m uncertain how often the “Revolving Portfolio” revolves.

Orchard was a participant in last year’s Totoro Forest Project (and was the one who let me know about it) and his work was recently showcased in the Spectrum collection of contemporary fantastic art (image at top, larger version here).

There is a nice article on Orchard, featuring large reproductions of his work, on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Orchard also maintains a blog called Meta Chronicles, dedicated to anachronistic science fiction themes, which often showcases related illustration.

The Charcoal Club of Baltimore

The Charcoal Club of Baltimore: Lee Alban, avid Buckley Good, Rita Curtis
Having lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life, I’ve long been acquainted with two of the oldest independent artists’ organizations in the U.S., The Plastic Club and the Philadelphia Sketch Club. I know them both from attending drawing workshops and participating in exhibits at each of the clubs.

The Philadelphia Sketch Club is, as far as I know, the oldest continuing arts club in the country; started in 1860 by students from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation’s oldest art school.

I know those in Europe will look at Americans quizzically when we act as though things from a century and a half ago are “old”; but bear in mind that we are a young country, and age is a matter of perspective.

There are other American arts organizations that trace their origins to the latter part of the 19th Century, the Salmagundi Art Club in New York for example; and many of them have had some of the country’s finest painters and illustrators among their membership.

They often have colorful histories and origins that delineate patterns of dissatisfaction among artists with the artistic establishment of the time, or the desire to practice life drawing from the nude when such practices were frowned upon.

I was delighted to find out recently about another such artists’ organization, which dates as the second oldest in the U.S., The Charcoal Club of Baltimore.

Organized around classes nude figure drawing, and for 20 years the only institution in Baltimore offering life drawing sessions, the club was intended to encourage art appreciation, the sharing of techniques and the promotion of local artists.

The club also became a bastion of civic pride as the sponsor of at least two Salon des Refuses in the 1920’s and 30’s when the Baltimore Museum of Art bypassed Baltimore artists in its juried exhibitions of Maryland artists.

The club, like the other arts clubs I mention, carries on its traditions of promoting life drawing sessions, the sharing of information, techniques and resources among members and the promotion of local artists.

There is a gallery on the club’s site, from which I’ve picked a few member artists whose work struck me and who happen to have web sites displaying more of their work.

(Images above: Lee Alban, David Buckley Good, Rita Curtis)

[Suggestion courtesy of Ray Ridenour]

Sorolla at the Prado

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
The rich, vibrant colors; the loose, confident brushstrokes; the painterly surface and broken color, the translucent sparkle of water on the skin of swimming children; the brilliant wash of sunlight defining a billowing sail; the sparkling daubs of suggested wavelets; the dappled corners of a summer garden; the saturated shadows of sun bathed cloth and the physical feeling of light, pouring through his paintings like a mist of illumination, may give you the… um, impression that Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida is an impressionist. He has more in common, though, with painters like his friends John Singer Sargent or William Merritt Chase, and some of the other so-called “American Impressionists”, than with the French “painters of light”.

Yes, Sorolla too is certainly a painter of light; light in all of its dazzling brilliance, light that acts like its own prism, breaking up into sparkling shards of intense color, but with a touch and an intention that is all his own. Veláquez was as much an influence Sargent or Chase, and his early exposure to the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage, and some of the Orientalist painters, along with his extensive classical training and study of the masters, lent his work an underlying classical solidity that the French rebels (with the notable exception of Degas) deliberately obscured with their own kaleidoscopic explosions of color.

Sorolla received attention and honors in Europe. With a dramatic show at the Hispanic Society of New York in 1909, and subsequent shows in New York, he entered a number of collections here in the U.S., including the Getty Museum.

It is at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, where the young Sorolla spent countless hours studying the work of the masters, and Veláquez in particular, that there is now a major exhibition of Sorolla’s paintings.

Simply called Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), the exhibition runs until September 6, 2009. There is a catalogue accompanying the exhibition.

The pages of the exhibition listing include reproductions of some of the pieces in the show, including the images above.

The Prado also has other paintings by Sorolla that you can search for here (hint, click into the zoomable image, then control-click or right-click on the zoomable image and choose “View in another window” to see the entire high-res image).

There are excellent sources for Sorolla’s work online, including Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – The complete works, and the collection of Museo Sorolla, as well as others I’ll list below.

For more, see my previous post on Joaquín Sorolla. Sorolla was also friends with Aureliano Beruete, another independently minded painter who gets labeled as s “Spanish Impressionist”, and painted his portrait.

Gobelins Students Animations for Annecy 2009

Gobelins Students Animations for Annecy 2009
Over a period of four months, teams of students in the animation division of the extraordinary Gobelins, l’école de l’image (Goeblins School of Communications) in Paris develop short (60-90 second) animated films that serve as introductions to the events of each day of that years Festival International du Film d’Animation d’Annecy (Annecy Animation Festival).

As I’ve mentioned before, these films are usually clever, witty, well drawn and well animated. Each year they give me great hope that the traditions of hand drawn animation are alive and well in the face of the tidal wave of CGI (both good and bad) from Hollywood.

This year there are five films (I think the official festival events are one day shorter this year), and the films are stunningly beautiful and well executed, even by past standards of extraordinary work from Gobelins students.

The Gobelins Student Work 2009 page lists the animations, along with credits, and has links (“Découvrir ce film”) for viewing the animations. (Non-French speakers can also view the page using Google Translate.) The films themselves are largely wordless so language is not a barrier.

One of the best ways to preview the animations before watching them, view large stills and a brief description, is by way of Michael Hirsh’s Articles & Texticles; which is what I do every year.

Form more, see my past articles on Gobelins Annecy Animations, which includes a list of links to previous years’ animations.

Kim Lordier

Kim Fancher Lordier
Pastel is one of those interesting areas where definitions of media show their limitations.

Pastel is a dry medium and is applied in may ways like a drawing medium, and of course can be used for drawing; but pastel is often used in applications that are more like painting, and “pastel painting” is a accepted term to a degree, though pastel doesn’t employ the liquid mediums and binders that are associated with paint.

I mention this because if there is one word that I want to use in describing the work of pastel artist Kim Fancher Lordier, it’s “painterly”.

Her passages of rich, textural color, woven together in luscious slabs and chunks into atmospheric wholes, are vibrant with the kind of feeling for the physical nature of the medium that ordinarily prompts the use the word painterly to refer to visible brushstrokes.

Lordier is a California artist who takes inspiration from the turn of the 20th Century California Impressionist painters (see my posts on Granville Redmond, Guy Rose – also here, Hanson Puthuff and George Gardner Symons).

She uses the painterly qualities of pastel to explore the light and atmosphere of the California countryside, her images evocative of time and season as well as place. She juxtaposes bright, high chroma passages with more muted colors, misty atmospheric perspective and subtle, color saturated darks.

Lordier’s website showcases and extensive array of her work. (Click to view the larger image and then use the arrows to click through.) There are also works visible on the sites of the galleries listed below.

Lordier conducts pastel workshops; one is coming up July 10-13 in Mt Vernon, Washington, and anther July 27-28 in San Mateo County, California.

Edward Tufte

Charles Joseph Minard, Napoleon's March on Moscow
Visual art is often presented as something that exists in its purest form “for art’s sake”, removed from any purpose other than to exist as art, sometimes seen as a rare and noble sort of abstracted “expression” of something.

This is the impression that is glibly, and I believe wrongly, put forth by the 20th Century Modernist art theorists; whose influence still permeates the museums, galleries and auction houses that form the foundation of the modern “art world”.

It is from the bulwarks of these notions that art snobs feel immune in presenting their vehemently held belief that illustration, for example, is “not art”, as an accepted art standard, rather than as the shameless class warfare it actually represents.

The notion of “art for art’s sake” is belied by centuries of art history, throughout most of which art has had purpose and meaning; whether to reinforce the doctrine of the church, enlighten and educate the upper classes, display power and wealth, illustrate literary or religious texts, decorate spaces, entertain the public, open windows to other times and places, tell stories, entertain, amuse, horrify, dazzle, illuminate, instruct and/or inform.

Visual art has all of those functions, and many more, and its multicolored threads are inextricably woven into the patchwork cloth of our day to day lives.

We are constantly interacting with graphics, symbols, images, drawings, logos, signs, maps, charts and all manner of visual marks that have differing degrees of impact on our decisions as we find our path through a labyrinth of choices.

Most of these, though decidedly visual and readily seen, are “invisible” in the sense that we take them for granted, are often oblivious to their influence on us, and rarely stop to think about their veracity, accuracy or effectiveness; or the intention with which they were prepared and presented.

Enter Edward Tufte, who has made his mark, so to speak, by doing just that. Though an artist to a degree, Tufte is noted primarily as a thinker about the visual presentation of information.

His groundbreaking, dryly titled book, The Visual Display of Qualitative Information (also here), became a classic that opened eyes and minds to the way that statistical graphics in particular (the use of charts, graphs, and what are now called “info-graphics”), affect the way we accept, understand and interpret information.

Using a range of widely disparate examples, he shows not only how such graphic displays can be used and misused, both intentionally and through incompetence; but how they can be thoughtfully designed to convey information superbly. He also demonstrates how well designed informational graphics can be much more information dense than text based statistics (a picture is worth a thousand numbers…).

Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information
Tufte, a Professor Emeritus at Yale University, followed up with several other books, two of which, Envisioning Information (also here, image above) and the new Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (also here), are also considered classics in the field of the visual display of information, which Tufte helped establish as a recognized field of study.

He illustrates his points with such diverse examples as 16th century maps, modern info-graphics, 20th Century propaganda graphics, a cosmonaut’s hand drawn cyclogram of a 96-day spaceflight, and Charles Joseph Minard’s strikingly visceral chart of the devastation of Napoleon’s army through its advance on and retreat from Moscow (image at top, large version here).

Tufte is a harsh critic of Microsoft’s PowerPoint, in particular, as an exemplar of the way visual information is clouded and obscured in useless presentation dressing, or “ChartJunk”; which affects, he asserts, not only the way we perceive visual data, but the way we think. (Wired magazine, in a fun juxtaposition, published Tufte’s essay, PowerPoint is Evil (which was expanded into a short book The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, also here) back to back with David Byrne’s article Learning to Love PowerPoint, in which Byrne explores the ubiquitous presentation application as an art medium.)

Megan Jaegerman infographic
Conversely, Tufte is a fan of well done displays of information, and has a high regard for the work currently being done in newspaper info-graphics, which he feels are well in advance of the presentation of such information by government and academia. In particular he points to the beautifully done info-graphics of Megan Jaegerman for the New York Times (above), which Tufte features prominently on his site.

For someone who is such an incisive thinker about information display, I have to say I’m disappointed in Tufte’s own web site (I tend to be cranky about that); but there are lots of gems to be found if you poke around enough, like the articles linked in the Ask E.T section, the “Graphic of the Day” list on this page, his video critique of the iPhone interface, and articles about all kinds of visual thinking; like this article about the notion that Cezanne’s early cubist landscapes were, in fact, a response to the inherently cubist geometric arrangement of older European towns (image below). (This is something I noticed myself when I was in Arles).

Cezanne - cubist townscape
Tufte is a highly regarded lecturer, those who have attended his lectures usually have very high praise for them, and he is about to tour several U.S. cities with a one day course on Presenting Data and Information. It starts on July 28, 2009 here in Philadelphia and winds up on December 10, 2009 in San Jose, California.

It would be difficult to show how influential Tufte’s thinking has been among those who are working to improve the way that data and information are conveyed, both in print and electronically. To do so effectively, I’d have to draw you a well designed, information dense chart.