Everett Shinn

Everett Shinn
Pastel artist, oil painter, illustrator and artist/reporter Everett Shinn was the youngest member of the group of turn of the 20th Century American painters known as “Ashcan school”.

Shinn was born in New Jersey and attended the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia, a technical school with classes in mechanical drawing and architecture, where another artistically inclined student named John Sloan was also a student.

Both would go on to become part of “The Eight”, a group of painters in New York who exhibited together in joint defiance of the artistic conventions of their day. The core group of them were given the name “The Ashcan School” out of derision by critics who deplored their frequent subject matter of rough, lower class people and their surroundings. (For more on The Eight and The Ashcan School, see my post on John Sloan.)

While in Philadelphia, Shinn went to work for The Philadelphia Press as a “visual reporter”, essentially an illustrator who served the role of quick observation and reporting that would soon be superseeded by the burgeoning new medium of photography. At the same time he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

At both the paper and the Academy, he fell in with a group that would later form the core of The Eight — John Sloan, William Glackens and George Luks, sometimes referred to as The Philadelphia Four. All of them came under the influence of Robert Henri, the outspoken artist and advocate of honest and unfanciful realism who was teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy at the time.

Shinn would continue to produce illustrations for various magazines and newspapers when he and his compatriots moved to New York, but only when he wanted to, not on a regular basis.

In his later career, his paintings and pastels of gritty urban life gradually gave way to more genteel subjects, and pastel gave way to oil after a trip to Europe and exposure to a wider circle of painters there.

Admirers of his early work criticized him for betraying his former role in portraying everyday life with social honesty, but, like Sloan, Shinn said it was never a matter of social or political protest, simply artistic observation.

Shinn worked in a variety of media — oil, watercolor, gouache and colored chalks, but is best known for his bold use of pastel and oil pastel. You can see evidence of his training as an observer in many of his works, as well as the influence of Degas in a number of his pastels, particularly those of theatrical subjects.

Jeu and L’homme sans ombre (Georges Schwizgebel)

Jeu and Lhomme sans ombre (Georges Schwizgebel)
Jeu (French for “game”) is an award-winning short (4 minute) animated film by Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel, by way of the National Film Board of Canada (top two frames above).

In the tradition of Disney’s Fantasia, it’s visual interpretation of a piece of music, in this case fairly free-form and constantly changing and morphing.

It gets most interesting about 2 minutes in, when Schwizgebel starts to play games with the structure of architectural interiors and related elements.

Schwizgebel plays some similar games with perspective and “camera angle” in L’homme sans ombre (“The man without a shadow”, bottom two frames above), a longer (10 minute) animated short about a man who makes a Faustian deal to trade his shadow for wealth.

Both films are wordless. The animation throughout has a rough, hand-painted look of gouache or pastel, though it may be oil, in a technique known as “paint-on-glass animation“.

I did not find a dedicated site for Schwizgebel, but you can find more of his films with a Google video search.

Michael Kutsche

Michael Kutsche
Michael Kutsche is a character designer and concept artist working in the film industry. He was one of the character designers on Tim Burton’s recent film, Alice in Wonderland, and is currently working on the upcoming John Carter of Mars, directed by Andrew Stanton and slated for release in 2012.

Originally from Germany, Kutsche is a self-taught artist who credits the internet with establishing his career. Though he works in traditional media like oil and watercolor for his personal and gallery art, his professional work is primarily digital paintings, and it was from a portfolio on CGSociety, a community site devoted to digital art, that he first gained the notice of Sony Pictures Imageworks, a connection that led to his work on Alice.

Kutsche often works with his digital tools in a way that gives a feeling of painterly traditional brushwork. Though his original CGSociety portfolio does not seem to be active, there is a two page interview with him on the site, as well as a walk through of the creation of one of his pieces, The Boxer.

His website has a gallery of work from 2008 and 2009, and he has recently started a blog.

His work is included in the new book, Disney: Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion.

Virginia Frances Sterrett

Virginia Frances Sterrett
In her unfortunately short life, Virginia Frances Sterrett fought to fulfill her desire to be an illustrator against the ravages of tuberculosis, which she contracted at the age of 19, the same year she received her first commission to illustrate a book, Old French Fairy Tales by Comtesse de Segur.

Sterrett was born in Chicago but grew up in Missouri and Kansas. Her father died when she was young. When she was 15 the family moved back to Chicago and, after high school and a stint doing advertising for a department store, she so impressed the Art Institute of Chicago with her abilities that they agreed to admit her and waive her tuition, which she could not have afforded.

Shortly thereafter, her mother became ill and she had to leave the school and work to support her family. It wasn’t long after that her own health began to fail. Though she recovered to a large extent after time in a sanatorium, and had several productive years, her life was cut short by the tuberculosis at the age of 31, just a few illustrations shy of completing Myths and Legends.

Sterrett’s fluid, colorful and elegantly designed compositions, which echo the Art Nouveau inflected illustrations of Golden Age greats like Kay Neilsen and Edmund Dulac, have a beautiful otherworldly quality. One can only imagine or hope that they in some way provided an escape for Sterrett from the harsh realities of her life.

There is a site devoted to her, with a good bio, though it only features illustrations from one book, Arabian Nights.

Art Passions has a relatively complete set from all of her books, Old Book Art has some large images from Tanglewood Tales (click through the linked images twice to get to the largest images).

Since her work was done in the early part of the 20th Century, the books are now in the public domain and you can read complete facsimiles of Tanglewood Tales and Old French Fairy Tales on the Internet Archive.

Amazon lists available paperback copies of Old French Fairy Tales, Volume 1 and Volume 2, but I haven’t seen them and I don’t know anything about the quality of the reproductions.

David Apatoff has an excellent post on Virginia Frances Sterrett on his always enlightening blog Illustration Art.

Ellen Buselli

Ellen Buselli
Ellen Buselli is a still life painter who takes inspiration from traditional still life painters from several eras, citing as her influences painters like Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Henri Fantin la Tour, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Emil Carlsen, Giorgio Morandi and the Dutch master painters.

Buselli chooses her subjects with great care, setting up the compositions with her own collection of pueblo pottery, Roman glass and American Arts and Crafts movement pottery. Despite the refinement evident in her finished works, she works directly, without preliminary sketches or value studies. She works with a carefully controlled palette, giving particular emphasis to establishing the right background against which to array the colors, values and edges of her subjects.

Unfortunately, the images on her web site are frustratingly small, giving little feeling for the surface qualities or brush handling in her work. You will find a few larger images in some of the additional resources I’ve listed below.

Buselli was the subject of a cover article in the January 2008 issue of American Artist, for which there is an accompanying gallery on the magazine’s site. There is also an article reprinted form the November, 2007 issue, in which there is a description of her working methods.

Google Doodles

Google DoodlesIn the late 90’s (I think it was 1998), in my role as a website designer, I was at a convention for internet professionals called Internet World in New York City. One of the exhibitors was an enthusiastic group at a low-rent table, with a rather bare bones display, handing out leaflets and encouraging people to check out a new search engine with an odd name.

Alta Vista was the hot search engine at the time, wowing people with its (for the time) large searchable databased index of web sites. Few gave much attention to the upstart, though word was that it was producing surprisingly good results.

Not that many years later, Google became synonymous with searching on the web, and is now an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the globe. One of Google’s original decisions, a choice that made it stand out as something different, was their spare interface; it was an exercise in minimalism amid the other search engines, who were looking to maximize profit by cramming dozens of news, feature and advertising boxes into their search page, to the point where the search feature was almost lost.

Much to their credit, Google has kept that simplicity on their main search page even now. But they have, over the years, lightened it up with variations on their iconic logo; at first with a few cartoon-like objects replacing the “O”s; eventually, as the practice became more common, with more elaborate illustrations, often with the “Google” almost hidden in the design (though always discernible if you look).

The Google Doodles as they are sometimes called, are now done by a team of designers at Google, along with occasional guest Doodles and Doodle contest winners.

CBS News recently did a short feature on the Google Doodles and some of the Doodlers behind them. The online version includes a slideshow.

Of course, you can always go to the source and view Google’s own archive of Doodles, along with a history of the practice.

One of the features I’ve come to enjoy is the inclusion of a number of Doodles celebrating the birthdays of artists, illustrators and cartoonists.

(Doodles above for: Vincent van Gogh, Diego Velázquez, Pablo Picasso, Ilya Repin, Leonardo da Vinci, Edvard Munch, Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Norman Rockwell, Albert Uderzo.)