Mouse Guard (David Peterson)

Mouse Guard by David Peterson
Mouse Guard is a comics series (graphic story) about medieval knights, life in medieval villages and communities, territorial differences, commerce, war, and the harsh conditions that marked life in Europe in the middle of the 12th Century; except that the story is about communities of mice, told almost in parallel, as though this were a history of what was occurring beneath the feet and notice of the actual medieval humans at the time.

The stories are named for the times, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, the current series. The Fall series ran six issues and was collected into a hardcover edition, Mouse Guard Volume 1: Fall 1152, and later released as a trade paperback.

Drawn in an illustrative style that would be suitable for children’s books, the stories appeal to adults and are charming and direct in a way that would appeal to children of a certain age (though there is some actual violence, so parents should read through before getting younger kids interested).

The illustration style stands out from most other comics, bearing more relation to pen and ink illustration from earlier times and carrying a nice flavor for the setting and story. Author/artist David Peterson draws the art in traditional ink on bristol board; the coloring looks like watercolor, though I don’t know if it is applied to stats manually or, like most modern comics, applied digitally once the drawings have been digitized.

Peterson also bucked the current market trends with another choice, making his books a different size from traditional American comics (8″ x 8″ instead of 6½” x 10″), which can make it more difficult to get past the mainstream mindset of many comic shop owners (as I know from the personal experience of publishing the print version of my own webcomic in a horizontal format).

Those comic shop owners who do opt to carry the title, though, are finding that they have a comic they can recommend to people new to comics, female as well as male, and of varying ages; something not nearly common enough as the American comic book market struggles to break out if its superhero ghetto.

Peterson’s stories would appeal to the broad audience that responded to the Lord of the Rings movies, with many similar themes and a similar (though more modest) approach to world building, creating a detailed setting in which to unfold his tales.

In addition to stories in keeping with the medieval sword and castle milieu, the mice protagonists face challenges familiar to real mice (owls, scarcity of food), but resolve them in distinctly anthropomorphic ways (swords and slings, negotiation and cooperation between disparate communities).

I find it particularly interesting in the current series that their greatest enemy doesn’t seem to be an evil warlord or ravaging beast, but the Winter itself, very much in keeping with the realities of Medieval life.

Peterson earned a degree in Fine Arts from Michigan University and has a personal web site that includes illustrations, many of which are for children’s books or in a similar style.

Unfortunately, like so many sites for comics and web comics in particular, the official Mouse Guard site seems skewed toward those who are already familiar with the series, and doesn’t do the best job of introducing a new reader to the material. You can actually get a better introduction and overview on the extensive Wikipedia entry devoted to the title.

There is also brief description and several preview excerpts on the Archaia Studios Press site, a nice 5-page excerpt from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 on the New York Magazine site, and an interview with Peterson on the Silver Bullet Comics site.

The official site does have an introduction to the characters, but in hunting for artwork, you may be misled into thinking there is not much available. There is no “Gallery” section; the Downloads section features small Avatars, but larger Wallpapers are promised as “Coming Soon”.

The For Sale section yields paydirt in the form of pages of original art for sale. Clicking on the thumbnails produces large versions of the original pages. These are presented in the increasingly popular Lightbox JavaScript pop-up, that I find mildly annoying for it’s tendency to make you wait while it resizes the window, but that’s a minor quibble. The Lightbox pop-up does provide the ability to click through the images in sequence (hidden control to the right an left of the image).

As nice as it is to see the original pen and ink pages, this is only part of the art, missing Peterson’s nicely emotive color.

What is not made obvious (and really should be) is that there is a series of terrific 8-page previews linked to the small cover thumbnails on the “Books” page. There are many pages of art here from the sequence of issues that can give you a real feeling for the nature of this original and fascinating series.

[Suggestion courtesy of James Gurney]

Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900 at the Brooklyn Museum

Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900  at the Brooklyn Museum - Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge by Utagawa Toyokuni
We tend to think of Japanese prints as depicting serene, contemplative scenes of mountains and gardens; and characterize them as the work of Zen-like removal from the bustle of everyday life.

On hearing that the term Ukiyo-e, the name for one of the most prominent genres of Japanese prints, refers to “pictures of the floating world”, we might assume, as I first did, that the intention is metaphysical.

In fact, the “floating world” is a term derived from a reference to a very much here-and-now (at the time) subculture that revolved around pleasure centers of major cities like Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (now Tokyo), in which food, drink, theatre, sex and other amusements offered their earthly allure.

Many of the prints that belong to that genre were of popular subjects like famous actors, sumo wrestlers, warriors, beautiful courtesans, interiors of theaters and scenes of frivolity and celebration like fireworks displays (image above: Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge by Utagawa Toyokuni). These prints could be produced in great enough numbers that a wide audience, for whom original paintings were out of reach, could afford them. In effect, they were the visual pop culture of the time.

In fact, the government often cracked down on the artists for pandering to the public with base and popular subjects and tried to forbid the sale of pictures of famous actors, beautiful women and overtly erotic subject matter. It was later, perhaps because of the crackdowns, that many of the same artists moved into landscape for their primary subjects.

The Brooklyn Museum in New York has mounted a show of more than 70 prints, both from the Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, and their own extensive collection of Japanese prints, called Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900 that brings this character of the Ukiyo-e prints into high relief.

The Utagowa School, founded by Utagowa Toyoharu, was the major force in the Japanese print market in the 19th Century. It encompassed many of the of the finest artists working in woodblock prints at the time, including Utagawa Hiroshige (also known as Ando Hiroshige).

The Brooklyn Museum owns a complete set of Hirosage’s famous 100 Views of Edo, one of the most revered series of works in Japanese Art.

Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900 is at the Brooklyn Museum from now through June 15, 2008.

If you happen to travel to brooklyn for the exhibit, don’t miss the fact that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a beautiful Japanese Hill and Pond Garden that should be showing signs of first blossoms about now; in which you can walk through the kind of serene and contemplative landscape we normally associate with Japanese prints.

For an experience more in keeping with the popular early prints of the Utagawa School, you might try Times Square.

Addendum: The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is offering a Utagwa woodprinting class inspired by the museum’s exhibit. From the Garden’s description of the class: “The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit of Utagawa woodblock prints will inspire us to make wood and/or linoleum block prints of BBG sites. Two or three sets of numbered prints will be the class goal. Previous experience with linoleum and/or wood block printing is necessary. To register, call 718-623-7220. 6 Thursdays: May 1 to June 5 | 10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. $174 member, $189 nonmember (Fee includes $25 lab fee.)”

Rogier ven der Wyden’s Miraflores Altarpiece

Rogier ven der Wyden's Miraflores Altarpiece
It’s interesting that in the great body of art throughout history that has been inspired by Christianity, or commissioned directly by the various expressions of the Christian church, the resurrection of Christ, the event that is the basis of the important observance of Easter, doesn’t seem to be one of the more common subjects for paintings.

While it understandably doesn’t embody the drama or emotional impact of the crucifixion, it seems less frequently depicted than many less important or dramatic events from the Bible that are often the subject of paintings, statuary or altarpieces.

I’m not certain why; there are some depictions of the resurrection that have plenty of visual impact, like Albrecht Altdorfer’s stormy scene and Matthias Grünewald’s stunningly intense vision in his Isenheim Alterpiece.

Perhaps it’s just my perception. I haven’t attempted an actual count, and there is a pretty long list of resurrection artwork on this site. It may just be that those paintings are not the ones most noticed or remembered.

Here is one to add to the list, though, a fascinating painting by an early master of technique of oil painting, Rogier van der Weyden. It is the right panel of his Miraflores Altarpiece (image above with detail, right and bottom).

This is an extraordinarily elaborate and detailed work, in which Van der Weyden is taking advantage of the ability of oil painting to execute intricate details and carry color in layers of translucent glazes.

This is actually a double scene, depicting two separate events in one image. Our eye moves from the decorative elements on the trompe l’oeil arches into the interior scene, painstakingly constructed in linear perspective, with Christ having arisen and gone immediately to his mother.

From there we move into the background of the painting, and also travel into the immediate past, to the scene of the resurrection, rendered with carefully painted atmospheric perspective. (It’s interesting to note that in work by the early masters of oil painting, there is an understanding of the color shifts and value changes in atmospheric perspective, but distant background elements are often rendered with the same fanatical detail as foreground elements.) The two scenes, and two events in time, are connected by a winding path in the middle ground.

Like Antonello da Messina’s remarkable St. Jerome in his Study, we are invited to journey into and through the painting, and in this case, through time as well.

Todd Ford

Todd Ford
Todd Ford is a painter and art teacher living and working in Texas.

Ford paints in a deftly rendered realist style that pays particular attention to smooth surfaces and sharp contrasts in sometimes closely related colors (greens and blues, oranges and yellows).

He has some frequent subjects, including a series of paintings of plastic toys (which I didn’t particularly respond to) and a more recent series of liquids and immersed objects in jars, and another of cloth partially inserted into jars (both of which I like very much), as well as the apparent beginnings of two newer series of reflective globes and drapery, and close ups of reflective spoons containing pools or drops of colored liquids (which I’m looking forward to seeing more of).

There is also a slightly older series of close ups of the details of old farm trucks, that I find fascinating for the juxtaposition of the weathered surfaces of painted metal with the smooth, shiny surfaces of glass headlights and chrome bezels.

Ford has both a blog and a web site that feature his paintings.

He takes several interesting tacks at his still life subjects. He has several paintings of broken glass, with close ups of bottle necks and the remains of the bases of broken bottles, rendered with an attention to color and transparency, rendering and finish that might be given to portraits of museum quality glassware.

My favorites are his compositions combining the transparency, color shading and tonal drama of colored glassware and drapery, usually in the form of cloth partially in and partially out of colored jars or bottles. There is also a related series of objects like spoons or brushes partially immersed in liquid in similar jars, that explores some of the same visual territory of transparency, translucency, reflection and refraction.

Ford also has a few paintings with light bulbs, broken, whole and even submerged in liquid in jars, the delve into the same challenges.

I’m particularly fond of some of the recent posts on his blog in which the paintings are photographed in place on the easel, giving you a sense of scale usually missing from photographed works.

[Link via Art & Critique]

My Father’s Hand (Samuel Wray)

My Father's Hand (Samuel Wray)
My Father’s Hand is a tribute blog, created by designer Amanda Wray to showcase the drawings of her father, Samuel Wray.

Samuel Wray was a commercial artist in some capacity, though I know little about his commercial work other than that he did some inking and lettering projects for comics, notably for a Robinson Crusoe comic.

The drawings that his daughter has posted are personal, drawings of figures and faces, sketches and self portraits. The postings started in 2006 and are sometimes accompanied by descriptive passages.

Along the way, we get glimpses of the man and his sometimes distant relationship with his daughter, her fascination with his process of drawing and her thoughts on the drawings themselves.

Wray’s drawings are often confident, with solid draftsmanship and a loose, informal line quality. Most are in pencil. He sometimes draws in ink, with tones in wash, and his ink line can be alternately definite or searching. In some of his pencil drawings, as well, he can have a more tentative line, with a delicate quality, seemingly contemplative.

My understanding is that Wray was suffering in his later years from the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, and was in struck by a car a few years before his death. His daughter started the blog about a year before he died, and was offering reproductions of the drawings, the proceeds of which originally went to him and now go to his widow. There is no formal offering of particular reproductions, simply a contact email link.

I assume the ability to purchase reproductions is still in place, as the blog is still on the web, even though Amanda’s posts stop a few days after her father’s passing in 2007.

[Link via Neil Hollingsworth]

Gary Kelley

Gary Kelley
Gary Kelley is a well-known American Illustrator with a long list of impressive clients, including Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and numerous agencies and design firms.

He has received 27 gold or silver medals from the Society of Illustrators in New York, and was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2007.

He created the two 70-foot murals for the dramatic Barnes and Noble bookstore at 5th Avenue and 48th Street in New York, has lectured at numerous art schools across the U.S. and is joining the faculty of the Hartford Illustration MFA program.

Kelley has illustrated several picture books, including classics like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle, and Poe’s Tales of Mystery.

Kelley does not maintain his own web site as far as I can tell, but he has a portfolio on the Richard Solomon site. Unfortunately, the new Solomon site is designed in a way that doesn’t permit the bookmarking of individual artist’s sections (What were they thinking?), so I have to direct you to the home page, and tell you to click on “Illustrators” link at top left, that just looks like a heading (What were they thinking?) and pop out the hidden menu (What were they thinking?) and find him in the list to see his portfolio (What? Were they thinking?).

There is a sort of pop-up menu of thumbnails at the bottom that you have to do some mouse gymnastics to get out of your way so you can see the whole picture. There are links at the top to a bio and case study.

Kelley has a strong geometric style, obviously informed by an admiration for Cubism in general and Picasso in particular. He has a remarkable ability to handle complex scenes with multiple figures and faces; and not only fill them with expressive human qualities, but focus your eye unerringly to the particular face or faces that he wants you to see. He does this without overt tricks of lighting, or blatant splashes of color; but instead using subtle control of value, color and composition, all within his intricate grid of geometrically defined shapes.

His palette varies from muted to bright, depending on the demands of the subject, and his colors are augmented with the deft application of texture, both in subjects and backgrounds. He also has a great knack for creating portraits that are stylized without being caricatures.

The Illustration Academy has a page devoted to Kelly, with a short bio, some (unfortunately small) images, and two interesting slide shows of demos he gave at the Academy, one in colored pencil, the other in pastel.