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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Request Permission to be Strange, Sir!"


Permission to be strange is what you get in art school. One more reason to love it.
The above sketch is part of a storyboard I made for my avant-garde film class. This was primarily a film-watching class, but for our final project we were asked to create a story (in text, in storyboard form or on film) that represented some of the principles of the nonlinear narrative.

I thought briefly about reproducing the whole storyboard, but really -- it is SO odd, that it would just leave you scratching your head more vigorously than this single panel. There truly is no point in it.

That said, I love that school occasionally pushes me into strange territories. I'm so banal, really. So Wonder Bread. When I finally let go and reach for the weird, it gives me a little tingle in my temples. Of course, I suppose that could be stroke symptoms ...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cover of "And the Pursuit of Happiness" by Maira Kalman

I find the art and books of Maira Kalman delicious. And sweet. And winsome.

If she weren't so sweet and winsome and smart, I'd be forced to hate her for being able to think and draw whatever she likes for a living. But how can you not love a woman who decides that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is her new imaginary best friend -- shoving aside Jane Austen?

Kalman does just that in "And the Pursuit of Happiness," her nearly 500-page visual diary of a year spent thinking about -- well, about how great it is to be an American.

Her vibrant gouache illustrations have illuminated the covers of the New Yorker, children's books and her own 2007 volume, "The Principles of Uncertainty." She brings an inquisitive mind and a joyous hand to her work.

That's the beginning of my Plain Dealer review of Kalman's new book. Here's your invitation to read the rest!

The review, here, stays on for a while -- but not forever!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Everyone Contributes

Well, now, I wish you could see the actual sketchbook page here, because it's lovelier than what you're looking at. The scanner has a hard time with these thick books, so I had to tile the two pages together. But you get the idea. And more to the point, it was fun to draw the tree as I sat on my front porch while the turkey roasted. Beyond the tree was the bird feeder I filled this morning after a chubby squirrel emptied it. I thought he should have a self-indulgent meal, too, so I wanted there to be lots to eat besides the dessicated partial pumpkin that's still lingering on the grass. After I filled the feeder, actual birds showed up, too. All kinds of birds.

At Thanksgiving dinner tonight, we engaged in our usual tradition of naming our gratitudes. Then I threw something new at the table. I encourage you to try it at home. I asked everyone to name someone from their past or present -- dead or alive, in contact with or estranged from -- who had been the source of some pain, for whatever reason. YOU know those relationships, right? We've all had them. The ones that matter so much that after a while we either have to change something fundamental in the situation or go crazy?

So we all had to name that person, then talk about one thing they had contributed to our lives. One good thing. And it couldn't just be, "Ever since he/she's out of my life I feel like a new person!" Or, "Putting up with him/her proved to me I could do anything!"

No, it had to be a direct, positive contribution.
Two of us had no trouble naming the person and their contribution.
Two of us struggled mightily to name the contribution. In one case, two of us helped another person by pointing out something the difficult-person-in-the-past had done.

I'm not sure whether everyone agrees with me, but I found this to be a wistful and worthwhile discussion. I especially enjoyed hearing points of view from my children that I hadn't heard before.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Class Notes

Having fallen down on the job of playing in my sketchbook lately, and feeling some remorse about that, I decided to attempt to entertain you with class notes. Decorative class notes, but class notes just the same.

Last night was the final class (well, except for the Final) of our avant-garde film course. What a curious experience that has been. With a few sparkling exceptions, it's been a series of tedious experimental films -- followed by really interesting discussions about those films. And the teacher finds a way to pull in all kinds of Big Picture topics, particularly ideas about time and science.

So if you're wondering why there's a pink elephant on my page, it's just that avant-garde film class is the kind of class where it makes sense to draw an elephant on the page.

Monday, November 15, 2010

From Real back to Sir Real

I'm kind of digging this practice of starting a sketchbook page with something real and mundane, then adding something from imagination.
I did it earlier in the year right here.

Going back even farther, I did it here, too.

I like this technique for days when I'm just itching to make a sketchbook page, but I don't have a scene in mind, per se. Pick an object, get drawing, then add to it what seems to make sense. Or what seems to shake things up.
After I drew this, I imagined a story about a family that lives in a cookie jar. Stupid? Maybe. Weird? Goes without saying. But kinda fun, too.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hat Girls

For lots of art students, the creative process seems to begin at the level of their own skin. Some, especially the fashion and interior design types, try to pull it together and look spiffy.

The painters and illustrators and maybe the sculptors (I don't know many sculptors) work it differently. The goal isn't always self-flattery, it's almost about creating a character. I'm thinking right now of this skinny young man with a head full of piercing shrapnel, eye makeup and dreadlocks that seem like something off a creature from Middle Earth.

The other day I was sitting through an illustration-class critique and noticed that three of my more costume-leaning classmates were wearing knit hats. It was 50 degrees outside, probably 70 degrees in the room where we sat picking apart each other's work.

I stared at them and thought about how long it would take me to become overheated if I were wearing a knit hat indoors. Five minutes? Three?

Deep inside, I still think the ideal look is a crisp button-down shirt and Hollywood trousers. You might not know it from looking at me, but my fashion default is always set to self-flattery. This is a mainstream attitude, not an art-school attitude. These art-school kids are so used to being different that they now wear it like a second skin. It's as if they figured themselves out earlier than most of us. They knew their place, and it wasn't necessarily in a button-down world.

So, no, for any number of reasons, I can't do what my dyed-in-the-handspun-wool-from-the-second-hand-store classmates do. I wish I could. Their self-designing approach is a visual wake-up call in an otherwise blandalicious world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November mystery

Uh, no Ma'am. I didn't do this to your pumpkin. I saw the guy, though. Look! I think he ran north! Maybe you should try to catch him in your car!

What, this? Well, y'know, I'm sure he left forensic evidence behind, so I thought I'd better investigate. But don't you worry yourself. Go on back to your coffee, and I promise -- If I find something, you'll be the firt to know.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I'm in LOVE and I want to tell the WHOLE WORLD!

Dear Moleskine -
How can I say this? It's not you, it's me.
Well, OK, it sort of is you. I mean, you've been great, with your slick, hardcovers. The bookmark sewn right in. The elastic privacy band.
Though, as you know, I've had some complaints over the years. I mean, the paper in your "sketch" version. Why the weird coating, Moley? Why? I never understood, though I tried to adapt.
Of course your watercolor version had nice, heavy paper for water media, and I want to thank you for that. Though, again: Why the panoramic binding? I mean, I appreciated that you listened and got rid of those stupid perforations in the page. (Heck, who pays $16 for a nicely bound journal only to tear stuff out of it?) But oh, how you deprived me of sensible two-page spreads with that crazy layout. I don't live in the desert, Moley. Sometimes I need a little balance.

But all of this is water over the bridge. Or under the dam. I'm never sure what's worse, come to think of it. I still love you. I always will. I'll never turn my back completely.

But you need to know: I have discovered the Fabriano sketchbook, and, well Moley -- GET THE SMELLING SALTS. It's like it used to be between you and me. Uh, only better. Because the Fab paper is divine.
No, really. I mean, look at how the watercolor laid down on the lady's sweater in that sketchpage there. I mean, LOOK AT IT, Moley. Oh, and my Fab has a bookmark, too.
Oh, and you know how much I paid for my Fab? Like, eight bucks. No extra charge for pretentiousness, I guess.

So, hey, it's been real. And we're still friends, I promise. But you're going to have to let me go and sow my oats with Fab, now. I have to be true to myself, Moley.

Kisses -

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Book People

It's been a long time since I've been in a room with a self-selecting group of Book People, but I was yesterday at the Buckeye Book Fair. This annual event celebrates the work of Ohio authors and illustrators and provides a great opportunity for shoppers to meet those authors/illustrators and buy their books.
So I tagged along yesterday with the veterans, Sara Holbrook and her partner in rhyme (and other things), Michael Salinger. They both have several books to their name.

So who are the book people who drove to Wooster, Ohio to buy and meet? Lots of teachers. Especially retired teachers. Many of them seemed cheerful and calm and like the kind of people you hoped your kid would have for English or math. (Often enough, they were buying books with their own money for their classrooms, I couldn't help but notice.)

But there were also home-schooler families, and beaming little kids, and farm families and bonneted Amish women and -- I also couldn't help but notice -- people with astounding hair. The woman with the pony tail up there on the right? That ponytail was all white-gray. She was 60 is she was day. But you could still see the 18-year-old girl she used to be.

The mustache I tried to capture there with just a hint of face? Well, I told Sara I thought it looked like the guy was wearing a shih tzu on his lip. My drawing does not do it justice, but in my defense I was trying not to stare. But the thing just went on and on.

Anyway, we signed lots of books, and had a couple of nice discussions (I met the wonderful illustrator Will Hillenbrand and a lovely Cuyahoga County librarian who gets to set up author visits) and just had lots of fun.

Plus, I got to hang out with the perfectly behaved HolbrookSalinger papillions, Susie and Lily.

Books and dogs.
Dogs and books

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The cool thing about Photoshop ...

The cool thing about Photoshop is that when you post a drawing that's done in marker after you have stupidly closed the sketchbook with ANOTHER, WET page on the other side, you can make it look to your unsuspecting audience as if you didn't really end up with unwanted color marring your otherwise almost-pristine page.

Yes you can.

The painful thing about this episode is that I had to work not to put any text on this page other than the date. Every ounce of me wanted to write in that white space. Really. But I knew I would regret it, because in the end I thought the plainness of it all was just perfect.


But do we like the chubby screwdrivers? Aren't they cute?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


I'm bummed out by so many things this morning I don't know where to start, but since this isn't a political blog I'll just say that it's too bad this page didn't match the sense of fun and adventure I had in making it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

You REEEAAAALLY need to click on this picture to get the full effect.

Ivy crawls wildly on the brick of this building around East 60th Street and Carnegie in Cleveland. The neighborhood is pitted with abandoned businesses, broken windows, and empty fields. But every time I pass this building (which I believe is actually occupied, though it looks otherwise) I'm fascinated by the way nature takes over.

On a less thoughtful note: Every time I see a building like this, so VERY ivy covered, I have this urge to borrow the Jolly Green Giant's razor and shave it.

I cannot explain my mind. In truth, I probably shouldn't even try to express it.