Bill Watterson: 15 Questions

Bill Watterson
Bill Watterson is one of my all time favorite comic strip artists, which is saying something, because my tastes run toward the greats from the early part of the 20th Century like Herriman, McCay, Raymond, Foster, Kelley and such, but Watterson is one of the few contemporary cartoonists I would put in their company.

I’ll write a more complete post on Watterson at some point, but a recent post on Digg pointed to a nice little interview of sorts, in which Watterson responds to reader questions. This is part of the press materials for the release of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes on the Andrews McMeel site.


Chris Ware: On Cartooning

Chris Ware
A recent post on reminded me of this interview with Chris Ware (who I profiled in February ’06) on the PBS site, as part of their features accompanying Tintin and I, their program last july on Hergé (who I profiled at the time and also mentioned in reference to the major exhibition at the Pompidou Center last December).

Ware gives his fascinating thoughts on Tintin, Hergés’ ligne claire drawing style (obviously a huge influence on Ware), the creation of comics characters, and a variety of other topics in this fairly long interview.


Omar Rayyan and Sheila Rayyan

Omar Rayyan and Sheila Rayyan
Studio Rayyan is home to husband and wife illustrators Omar Rayyan and Sheila Rayyan.

The tongue in cheek “Who are we” section on their site provides little information of real use, except that Omar is of Middle-Eastern descent (could we have guessed?) and is allergic to yaks (always good to know). I was also able to glean from the provided photograph that they have, or personally know, a horse.

In addition to childrens’ book illustration, to my eye influenced by the terrific work of Arthur Rackham, among others, Omar’s gallery features some commissioned works and a series of “portraits” of individuals with large demonic horns.

A little digging shows that Omar’s clients include Aladdin Books, Hyperion Books, Holiday House and Spider magazine and has won a Spectrum Gold Medal. You can find some of the books he has illustrated on their links page or on Amazon.

Sheila’s gallery features an array of fantasy subjects and amusing grotesqueries, intricately rendered in pencil. Sheila’s work has also been featured in the Spectrum annuals and both artists have been nominated for the Chesley Award; though they haven’t brought it home… yet.

Image above: Omar Rayyan (left) and Sheila Rayyan (right).

Correction: Omar did win a Chesley. In 2005 he won the award for artistic achievement.


Coles Phillips

Coles PhillipsJust as there was a “Gibson Girl” in the 1890’s, in which the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson came to be the personification of the ideal of a modern woman, so, in the early part of the 20th Century there was a “Phillips Girl”, a less well known, but also influential, ideal, portraying an on-the-go and socially active modern woman.

Phillips is perhaps more well known for another stylistic aspect of his work, the “Fade-away Girl”. In one of his illustrations for Life Magazine, which was initially a humor magazine, Phillips used a clever graphic device of making the foreground color of his model’s garment the same color as the background, creating a sort of inverse silhouette. This went over so well that Phillips repeated it, and went on to create many variations on the theme (left, bottom).

Phillips was a strong and talented artist, but in an era when he was surrounded by great illustrators like Joseph Clement Coll, N.C. Wyeth, James Montgomery Flagg, Harvey Dunn, Maxfield Parrish and Edmund Dulac, who can blame him for finding a way to stand out.

It’s easy to think of Phillips as being too reliant on the technique, but he needed a masterful sense of design to pull it off, and his terrific draftsmanship and obvious skill as a painter come through.

Personally I prefer his illustrations that don’t depend on the “Fade-away Girl” (left, top). His beautiful use of color, handling of figures and rendering of fabrics and folds put him in the company (and probably mutual influence) of greats like J. C. Leyendecker.

There is a wonderfully inexpensive collection called All-American Girl: The Art of Coles Phillips by Michael Schau.

the American Art Archives site has an excellent bio and a the best selection of Phillips images on the web.


Ghostbot (update)

GhostbotI don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get weary of the overuse of 3-D CGI in TV commercials.

Yes, some of it is clever and very well done, but there’s just so much of it that the 2-D, spy-themed mini-cartoons for eSurance, produced by WildBrain (who I profiled here) and animated by the Ghostbot studio, are a welcome relief; and, to my mind, much more entertaining than slick CGI spots like the Geico Gecko.

Ghostbot, who I first wrote about back in November of 2005, has now created 9 of the animated commercials. Ghostbot is an animation studio in San Francisco that does TV commercial animation in Flash, a vector animation technology created for web animation that is finding increasing use in television cartoons.

A bit 60’s modern, a bit 90’s retro, Ghostbot’s sharply stylized, colorful and nicely realized cartoon shorts have a bit of the feeling of classic film title animation, though hyped up to a frenetic pace that allows them to suggest the basics of a story in 30 seconds.

Their Projects gallery features the eSurance spots as well as other Ghostbot projects, including a music video for Five Iron Frenzy.

Advertisers are beginning to realize the value of commercials that entertain; and the eSurance site offers a download of a longer (3 minute) WildBrain/Ghostbot animation called “Carbon Copy” (left, bottom), that is even more fully realized than the TV shorts, and uses the same characters, but has only minimal branding at the end of the story.

Ghostbot sometimes wears their influences on their sleeve; several of their commercials feature variations of giant robots (above, second image) that feel like homages to Brad Bird’s terrific feature, The Iron Giant, and their “Quick Draw” commercial looks a lot like Kazu Kibuishi’s Daisy Kutter comics series; but I like aggregations of influences and references to other bits of entertainment, like Ghostbot’s 30’s film noir nod to Casablanca in their recent “Proof” eSurance spot (above, third image).

One of the nice features of Ghostbot’s site is that they not only make the sample shorts available (in Quicktime), but they also have a section of preliminary concept drawings and Storyboards (unfortunately reproduced a little small, but large enough to get some idea of what they look like).

In the Portfolios section, there are individual portfolios for co-conspirators Alan Lau, Roque Ballesteros and Brad Rau, as well as links to friends and associates like Kenn Navarro, Rhode Montjo and Arvin Bsutista.

There is also a login for the “Ghostbot Secret Base“, whose mysteries are beyond the reach of this writer.

The Ghostbot principals also maintain the long-running Punch Pants blog, with news and views on their work and projects by friends and others in the commercial animation community.


Christopher Stott

Christopher StottChristopher Stott is a Canadian painter living and working in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. For the past three years, Stott has been self-represented. In the “About the Artist” section of his site he makes a point about the dedication and work this entails.

Stott’s paintings could be considered either still lifes or interiors, usually focusing on objects like chairs, of which he has done a series, books, suitcases, and smaller objects like clocks or shoes.

At first I was tempted to describe his work as reserved, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I think that was a result of the initial impression I had of his paintings of chairs; which, in some odd way, feel like formal portraits.

On closer inspection, his work reveals a controlled but painterly approach, focusing on the play of light across and around the objects and the surfaces on which they rest. The result is a sort of contemplative quiet within which there is a drama in the patterns of light, and suggestion of the advance of time. The kind of oblique lighting in these views is always fleeting, and a viewer of the real scene would find the composition dramatically different within the space of an hour.

Stott’s color palette tends to be muted. The dark wood of his chairs, the warm grays and neutral cover colors of his stacks of books and the soft grays of his backgrounds all lend to the feeling of settled equanimity, making it clear that the patterns of light are the key players in the compositions. (Stott’s fascination with the way light falls across objects in rooms brings to mind the work of two painters I’ve featured previously, Neil Hollingsworth and Karen Hollinsgworth.)

Stott has recently started a blog on which he features recent paintings and talks a bit about the choice of subject and process.

He offers his available work through an eBay store, and, if you’re willing to put up with the usual horrendous eBay interface (you’d think a company with those resources would have a better one by now), you can see come of his work reproduced larger, though unfortunately watermarked.

Stott’s gallery section promises that more will be added soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing a broader range of his work.

Addendum: Stott has, in fact, added significantly to his gallery since I put up the original post. If you viewed it at that point, check back for a number of additional paintings, including many paintings of small objects, of which I particularly enjoy several that feature clocks.