Tatsuyuki Tanaka

Tatsuyuki Tanaka
Tatsuyuki Tanaka is a Japanese animator, illustrator and comics artist who was one of the animators on the landmark anime Akira; and has done key animation, storyboarding and concept design for a number of other animated films, including directing sequences for the anthology anime Genius Party Beyond, which also includes a sequence by one of my favorite anime directors, Koji Morimoto.

I’m a little shaky on the particulars because so much information is in other languages, but I believe Tanaka is associated with Morimoto’s Studio 4C production company. (There is a page for Tanaka on an unofficial French site devoted to Morimoto and Studio 4C here, Google Translate English here).

There is a new book of Tanaka’s work called Cannabis Works which I think is a combination manga (comic story) and art book. It’s easier to find excerpts of the book online than it is to find copies for sale. Amazon lists it as though it were unavailable in the US, but I did find it on the Anime Books Yahoo Store for $31.00 U.S. (I haven’t ordered from them so I can’t give a recommendation.) His comics also appear in an anthology comic called Boiled Head.

Tanaka draws with a refined style that is almost European, without the excessive stylization often associated with manga and anime. He is also a master of the hyper-complex backgrounds and machinery that often make Japanese comics and animation dazzling eye-candy. Tanaka is feverishly imaginative, like a blend of some of the best characteristics of Katsuhiro Otomo, Masamune Shirow and Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

Tanaka uses a muted, restrained palette to great effect in a number of his images, almost to the point of being monochromatic, creating darkly cinematic moods and otherworldly atmospheres.

Digik Gallery has a gallery of large images from the book, Pink Tentacle has a short, rather trippy sequence here, and I’ve listed some other resources below.

[Via Articles & Texticles and io9]


Drew Struzan (update)

Drew Struzan, Big Trouble in Little China, Huntington Gardens
Drew Struzan is one of the most widely recognized and influential poster artists of modern times. In addition, he is a versatile illustrator of book and comic covers, music LP and CD covers, advertising and other product illustrations.

I wrote about Struzan back in 2007. Since then his website has been redone with many additional images and reorganized into multiple sections. It not only showcases his Illustrated Works in various areas, but also provides an online gallery of his Studio Works.

The latter features a selection of paintings and drawings that range from fanciful interpretations of some of the famous faces he has worked with in his illustration, as well as imaginative images of a variety of subjects, including some nicely straightforward landscapes (image above, bottom right, Huntington Gardens, pastel and colored pencils on gray paper.)

I particularly enjoy the way Struzan works in the great tradition of movie posters, in which the stars and several dramatic sequences from the movie are worked into a single composition. It’s a treat to see the wide range of his illustration work and more of his personal and studio work as well.

The online galleries are set up in an interesting reverse of a common paradigm, in that the initial image is a detail crop, clicking on which goes to the full image of the work.

Some of the detail images show his work large enough to see his beautiful technique. In the detail of the image above, a poster for Big Trouble in Little China that I’m particularly fond of, you can see his handling of acryilc and colored pencil; a technique he uses to advantage to combine designerly elements with superb draftsmanship and lively, textural rendering (image above, bottom left).

The only awkward thing about the site is that there is no direct link between the Illustration and Studio sections without returning to the home page.

Gallery Nucleus, a sometime advertiser on Lines and Colors, has managed yet again to make me envious of those in their area (Alhambra California), by mounting a show of Struzan’s work, Drew Struzan: An Artist’s Vision, that runs from February 13 to March 2, 2009. The opening reception is this Friday, February 13 from 7:00 to 11:00PM, and the artist will be there.

In the meanwhile, those of us who are, oh say, 2,700 miles away, will be able to content ourselves with the terrific new site.


On taking photographs in art museums

On taking photographs in art museums, Monet, Green park, London
Some years ago I found out, much to my surprise and delight, that personal photography was permitted in most major art museums in the US and many in Europe. Museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington the the Louvre in Paris all permit you to photograph the artwork in their permanent collections (though not visiting or special exhibits, or works on loan).

The ability to take your own photos of artworks is wonderful for a number of reasons; not the least of which is that, if you work at it, you can take photographs with a small, inexpensive camera that show more detail, brush strokes and paint surface characteristics than the images in most art books and other reproductions.

It’s not that professional photographs taken under controlled conditions aren’t better, it’s just that they’re seldom made available at high enough resolution to show the detail. Occasionally an art book will show a few small detail crops, but even that is rare. In your own photographs you can zoom in at will, and take close-up crops the would never make it into an art book. You can also get photographs of wonderful but obscure works that rarely make it into reproduction.

It’s not easy, though. There are rules. Most museums that permit photography prohibit the use of flash or tripods. There is usually a policy statement about photography on the museum’s website in the section about visiting the museum or “museum policies”. (The National Gallery of Art in Washington actually allows flash photography, though they shouldn’t, and the Met permits tripods on certain days.)

Taking a well focused photograph of a painting in low light with a handheld camera can be a challenge, as my numerous blurry attempts attest, but you can do it with a little patience.

The good news is that it’s gotten easier in in the last couple of years, with new advances in camera technology, most importantly the new generation of cameras with Image Stabilization.

This is a group of technologies that reduce the blurring effect of camera shake by physically moving either the lens element or the image sensor in digital cameras to compensate for the movement of the camera body.

Be careful when shopping for this, however, there are a lot of spurious claims of “anti-shake” and “anti-blur” features that refer to simplistic mechanisms that simply use a high ISO (allowing more light to be read by the sensor in less time) that allows them to increase shutter speed; which in small consumer cameras can easily result in pictures that are so grainy and noisy as to be unusable. (This is a phony feature in much the same way that “digital zoom” is a phony feature, as it is essentially just a smaller crop of the original image with less resolution. “Optical zoom” is the real thing.)

Read reviews on camera enthusiast sites to ensure that the camera you’re choosing has actual mechanical image stabilization. The better manufacturers generally make it clear that they’re providing genuine image stabilization (though they often have different names for it).

Monet, Green Park, London; Canon SD770IS Digital ElphEven though I already have a small camera I like very much, a Canon A-95, I recently bought a new camera just for the purpose of taking photos in art museums, both because I wanted image stabilization and because I wanted something a bit smaller and easier to carry around.

After diligently doing my homework (and if you’ve read my article on pochade boxes, for example, you know I can be a bit obsessive about researching what I buy), I decided on a Canon SD770IS Digital Elph (Amazon link, image at left).

In looking for camera that would be best for the purpose, and still relatively inexpensive, I considered several cameras, read numerous reviews and, after leaning toward the Sony Cybershot DSCW150 for awhile (their image stabilization tech is branded “Sony Super Steady Shot”), settled on the Canon.

Both have received excellent reviews and provide the image stabilization feature in a small package (about the size of a deck of playing cards) at a reasonable price. These size cameras are sometimes called “sub-compact” or “shirt pocket cameras”.

Prices on digital cameras are ephemeral, changing by the minute based on retailer, marketing whims, and apparently alignment of the moon and planets. I found good prices on Amazon for the particular camera I was buying, but that even varied within the same model. When I bought my SD770, the Silver version was $160 and the black trim model of the same camera was $190, and at the moment it’s reversed, go figure.

It’s worth looking around even within Amazon or other large suppliers for multiple listings of the same product to see if you can find a better price. The camera review sites often list suppliers and prices at the bottom of reviews, but be wary of some smaller suppliers, look for reviews of the retailer before buying somewhere you haven’t purchased before.

There are a number of other small image stabilized cameras from Nikon, Panasonic and others (who often have different names for the image stabilizing technology) that would also be excellent choices. I don’t mean to limit your choices or suggest I have a definitive answer, I’m just trying to provide the benefit of my experience.

So far I’ve been very pleased. The image stabilization feature allows me to get about 2 f stops of improvement in ability to shoot unblurred images in lower light conditions, the color balance and image sharpness are good and the camera is small enough to carry without being distracted by it when I’m not actively taking pictures. I also got a Canon case for the camera that slips on a belt and has a magnetically closed flap that provides much easier access than a zippered case.

Bear in mind, though, that image stabilization is not a magic cure for blurred shots, just an improvement, an edge. Also, you can certainly take photos in museums with cameras without that feature, as I’ve done many times, it just takes a bit more work.

In either case the old advice still holds, keep your elbows in, breathe out before shooting and, perhaps most importantly, take multiple shots. Get a large memory card for your digital camera so you’re not intimidated about using memory space, they’re inexpensive now, and take several shots of everything. That’s perhaps the single most useful rule I’ve learned about photography, and one of the best things about digital photos, you can just throw out the files you don’t want.

There is also neat trick for making you own $1 camera stabilizer (Metacafe video). You may get funny looks, or even objections, from museum guards, but it’s not a tripod.

When learning to take photographs in museums, I also tested my shooting methods by taking two shots of each painting, not just because taking multiple shots is always advisable, but to see the results at different ISO settings, usually 200 and 400.

The higher ISO permits a faster shutter speed, hence less chance of blurring, but as ISO levels increase, so does noise in the photographs, particularly in these small cameras with tiny CCD sensors. Most small cameras do OK at 400, and it significantly reduces blur, but the discerning eye can tell the difference. At ISO 800 or above, most small cameras start to produce an annoying level of noise in the shot (hence the uselessness of the ISO-based “anti-shake” features in cheaper cameras).

The image above, top is a photo I took with my new camera of a charming little Monet in the Philadelphia Museum of Art called Green Park, London, with a crop below at full resolution. My original 10 megapixel image was 3648 pixels by 2736 pixels. The crop here is at full size at 450 x 300. Here is the painting on the PMA’s web site. The listing has a zoomable feature that shows pretty good detail; but not as good as mine, even though the original professional photograph, taken under controlled conditions with tripod and lighting, was undoubtedly much better.

Also, when photographing paintings in museums, be aware that using the zoom produces more sensitivity to camera shake. I walk up to a painting to take close ups.

There is also a tendency to use a little bit of zoom to compensate for the fact that small cameras often show “barrel distortion” when used at close range without zoom (the tendency for the image to look as though it’s spread out across a somewhat curved surface, as in my image above, top), but there are ways to correct that digitally.

Recent versions of Photoshop, in particular, have a great filter for just that purpose called “Lens Correction”. I’ve used that, plus the free transform tool, to correct my rather haphazardly composed shot at top into a nicely square version (left, top). I’m assuming that there must be consumer level image editors with similar features.

There are also software remedies for reducing noise in images taken with higher ISO settings, like Neat Image, which is a free Photoshop plug-in for Mac and Windows, and offers a stand-alone version for Windows (also free). I haven’t tried it yet.

Another factor to consider when taking photographs of artworks is “white balance”, an adjustment in color sensitivity to compensate for the different spectrums of light produced by the sun and incandescent, florescent and halogen lamps. Most cameras have an auto white balance feature, but if your images come out looking too yellow or too blue, etc., you may want to look into setting it manually by taking a white card into the museum and shooting it in gallery lighting at different white balance settings, to see which makes it look most like pure white.

Here are a couple of articles that go into more detail, Museum Photography, from Digicam Help, and a Museum Photography article on Wikiversity.

If you have access to a major museum, it’s worth investigating their museum policies to see if photography is permitted. If you’re studying painting, in particular, close-ups of paintings by artists you admire can be an invaluable resource.

Unfortunately, the big disappointment is that many smaller, regional museums, like the Brandywine River Museum, The Michener Art Museum and the Montclair Museum, to name a few of my favorites, don’t permit photography of artworks at all. Some small to medium sized museums, like the Delaware Art Museum, have policy comparable to the larger museums. I don’t know exactly why there seems to be such a division in policies; perhaps small museums are more dependent on loaned works in their primary galleries.


Wikipedia Loves Art

Wikipedia Loves Art
Wikipedia Loves Art is a combination photography contest and scavenger hunt with the intention of illustrating articles on the free encyclopedia with photographs of specific art objects from participating museums, taken by the contestants and released under a Creative Commons License.

There are participating museums in 5 states in the Northeastern US, as well as in Tennessee, Texas, Hawaii and California, and in the UK at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

According to Wikipedia:

“The project is coordinated by the Brooklyn Museum, with the participation of the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum (New York), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Historical Society, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Taft Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum. In all, there are 15 different museums and cultural institutions participating.”

Individuals or teams (up to ten people) register for participation at various museums and then shoot photographs (according to the rules of each individual museum, usually no flash, no tripods, and only from the permanent collection) of items that fit themes on a “Goal List”. These include themes suited to various galleries of the museum’s collections and a general topic of Valentine’s, the overall theme of the event.

Usually the photographer takes at least two photographs of an object, one to tag it with a note held up next to the object with the Goal List tag and object information, and another high quality image (or several) for potential use in the Wikipedia articles.

The contest takes place during the entire month of February, 2009 (hence the Valentine’s theme), and although the prizes are modest, such as tours of particular collections given by their curators, the contest sounds like a lot of fun for art lovers and photographers. You can go on your own or participate in a planned event with other photographers or groups.

The photographs get uploaded to the Wikipedia Loves Art Flickr Group, which also has notices of particular meet-ups (Brooklyn Museum today) and links to Goal Lists and registration.

The page also contains the shooting guidelines for each museum, the overall qualifications and the notice that eligible photographs must be released under the correct Creative Commons License. These guidelines are also on the main Wikipedia article along with links to individual Wikipedia pages about the participating institutions, which also often have their own pages devoted to the event.

Photographs will be selected from the entries and appropriate choices, judged for quality and appropriateness, will be used to illustrate Wikipedia articles, with credit to the photographer.

Even for those of us not participating, it should be interesting to watch the results at they are posted in the Flicker Group. Those currently posted are mostly from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and seem to be largely of sculpture and historic artifacts, but the event has just started.

They are also of mixed quality, some people are better photographers than others, and low light photography with a hand held camera is not that easy (having a camera with “Image Stabilzation” is helpful). The Smithsonian is probably the only museum that allows flash photographs of two dimensional artwork (though they really shouldn’t).

The event should yield some interesting results. I’m particularly looking forward to the posting of at least a few high-resolution photographs of paintings, like the Pissarro in the image above, top (larger version here, click “Original” at top for high-resolution version). I just can’t get enough of those.

The Wikipedia Loves Art combination photography contest and scavenger hunt runs through the end of February, 2009.

Even after that it should be worthwhile looking through the Wikipedia Loves Art Flickr Group.

[Via Eye Level]


Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age

Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age, Daniel Vosmaer, Adriaensz Berckheyde
In reviewing the exhibition currently at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age, Blacke Gopnik writes in his Washington Post article The ‘Golden’ Compass that contemporary viewers may not know how to correctly look at classic Dutch landscapes and cityscapes.

He suggests that this is more than having a background knowledge of the artists or particular paintings, and in fact has to do with physical proximity to the painting, a reference to a kind of “sweet spot” from which the painting was intended to be seen, particularly in terms of being close enough to the image for it to fill a significant part of your visual field; but also, in some cases, requiring a vantage point from one side or the other.

A case in point is Daniel Vosmaer’s Delft from an Imaginary Loggia (image above, top), which looks “off” at first, but apparently resolves into a strikingly naturalistic scene when viewed from a position close to the bottom left of the painting. Some are more natural seeming in appearance when seen from a distance or in reproduction, like Adriaensz Berckheyde’s The Grote or St. Bavokerk in Haarlem (image above, bottom), but still evidently reveal their full force only when seen up close.

Gopnik goes on to suggest that over half the paintings in the show, and many other Dutch cityscapes, interiors and even still lifes, are meant to respond to an off-center point of view.

It’s a fascinating idea, and one I hope to put to the test by traveling to see the show.

When I first looked at the slide show in the Post of images from the exhibition, I was ready to jump in the car and drive down, because it looked as if Vermeer’s beautiful View of Delft (larger image here) was among the paintings on exhibit. I saw this amazing work when it was at the wonderfully extensive Johannes Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery back in 1995, and I have been dying to see it again since. Unfortunately, that work was only part of the current exhibition in its other venue, the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, which is home to the painting. Apparently the curators at the Maruitshuis felt it was too dangerous to allow the large painting to make the trans-Atlantic voyage again, as explained here.

Still, the current exhibit of Dutch cityscapes, from the height of their glory, should be something to see indeed. The exhibition contains 48 paintings by over 40 Dutch masters, including Gerrit Berckheyde, Aelbert Cuyp, Jan van Goyen, Jan van der Heyden, Pieter de Hooch, Hendrick Vroom, Pieter Saenredam, and Jan Steen; and is supplemented with maps, atlases, illustrated books and prints.

Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age is on display at the National Gallery in Washington until May 3, 2009.


2009 Eustace Tilley Results

2009 Eustace Tilley Results
The results are in for The New Yorker’s 2009 Eustace Tilley Contest. See my recent post about the 2009 Eustace Tilley Contest for an explanation.

You can view the 12 winners as a slide show, or as thumbnails. You can also view all 2009 entries. You can see the original Eustace from the cover of the first issue of The New Yorker here.

I love the Watchmen graphic novel cover parody by Marcus Thiele (above, center, larger version here).

You can also view the 2008 winners (thumbnails) or all 2008 entries (on Flickr).

Ace Tilley - Charley ParkerJust for fun, I actually entered this year (image at left, larger version here).

My entry didn’t make the cut, but it was fun to draw; even though, with my usual insane schedule, I was working on it at the last minute (literally — I submitted it one minute before the midnight deadline); and for someone who hardly ever posts my own work on this blog, here I am doing it twice in a row.

It’s fun to look through the whole range of entries, particularly if you saw last years’, and compare some of pop culture influences relevant to the times (lots of iPhones, financial woes and Obama images this year).

See also my post on last year’s contest, The Many Faces of Eustace Tilley.

(Image at top, left to right: David Leonard, Marcus Thiele, David Cook, Adam Koford, Charlene Chua, Eric Almendral)