Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How done is done?





































I taught a class recently and during one of the exercises I just wasn't feeling it. Rather than try to force myself to do something that wasn't happening I just let my pencil wander.  I ended up sketching Joe doing his typical Joe face.  We all have days when we feel like this.  It's that expression that announces your total "doneness" with a situation without having to say a word.

I have to admit that it's therapeutic to draw it out.  Paying attention to how Joe might hold his expression and how the light would fall takes your mind off your own pissy attitude.  I really should do this type of stuff more often. . .

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sharpening Your Skills




You have just finished carving the last needle on the pine tree in a landscape that is to be printed.  You notice that the edge on your tools is beginning to dull.  It’s lunchtime and your aching knuckles really need a break but there is a deadline looming.  Well, summon the sharpener!  It’s his job and that’s what you keep him around for anyway!  If you were a carver in an Edo period print shop, this would be the solution.  But . . . here in the year 2014, the woodblock print artist is often tasked with the maintenance of his or her own tools.

If you are interested in the process of Japanese Woodblock Printing, are curious about the maintenance of your own tools, or would like to take a gander at some Japanese Woodblock Carving Knives come join me at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center this Wednesday Block Night (03/12/14) at 6:30pm for a demonstration!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

more Gruff work



Itching to get back to painting and illustration, I pulled out my Three Billy Goats Gruff painting.  I miss painting, or I should say I missed painting.  I find I get hung up on wanting to paint an image in my head but stopping short because I haven't sketched it out yet.  

It's funny.  I can approach oil painting and feel comfortable sketching out an underpainting in paint but I don't like to do the same with watercolor.

At any rate, gone are those long stretches of time where one can sit in one place without disruption and sketch out, paint, and complete a piece.  Them days are lost in adulthood.  Perhaps if I was a full time illustrator, but not at this moment in time.

Anyway, as a night owl, my witching hour begins when the sun goes down and that's when a lot of my sketching gets done.  I've learned that there is a certain point in time when my eyes are no longer any good for any color work.  I've heard it called "cold-eye" in the graphic design circles.  All I know is my cones act like total divas.  They go, "To hell with you and to hell with this!  We're done!" If I don't stop there, I end up screwing things up.  I once did a painting that I thought had the most wonderful shades of pink only to wake up the next morning and find an orange painting.

My rods are like old faithful.  They could care less.  They just ask for a cup of tea or two and keep on truck'n.


When working with ox gall liquid, make sure you don't mistake it for your tea.

Into the Flamingo's Nest


I began a project in my undergraduate studies that sort of fell to the wayside.  It captured my imagination and created a haven for expression that I had missed since those bygone days where one could approach a sketch book with no ulterior motive other than play.  Those projects are valuable because the older we get the easier it is to lose sight of why artists started doing art in the first place.  As I progress, I will post more updates but it is sufficient right now to just mention that the project is called "Life in the Flamingo's Nest" and there is no due date.  There is only a drive to see this develop and enjoy the process.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Open Sesame


I've finally rounded up all the password books I've created onto etsy. Yay!

What's a password book you ask?  Well, it's the best thing since sliced bread actually.  Everyone should have one of these fantastic little bridges between past ephemera and modern technology!

If you have multiple log-ins for multiple sites, you really should have passwords that differ from one another.  Creating passwords that are also complex is a plus because they are more difficult to hack.  If your identity is stolen, you definitely don't want to make it easy for the hacker.  These are good practices in theory but in practice it is difficult to remember all of that information without writing it down.


That's where these password books come in handy!  I use mine for this purpose and also for addresses and phone numbers.  Definitely better than jotting things down on slips of paper that get lost or tossed out on accident.


But I'd be lying if I didn't say that my favorite aspect of these tiny little tomes are their hand binding and the vintage key attached to the cover of each book.  I visit my local oddities store and the little old man behind the corner has a box of orphaned old keys he lets me rifle through.  Each one is different and has it's own patina from a lifetime of wear.  There are some really neat designs on some of them and definitely interesting shapes for all different purposes.  You can check out all the different ones here:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Law & Order Studio - special victims unit

Shove that dead body off the table and clear the forensics lab.  I've got some detective work to do.


One down, fourteen to go.  I've finally fished all of the first batch of type out of the cleaner.  Take a good look at the photograph above because it's probably the last time you'll see it organized so nicely.  Once I begin to use it, it will probably look like the sloppy pile of spaces in the bottom compartment.  I took the time to line them up like this because it helps me see damage and inconsistencies faster. There are often type drawers with different sets of font mixed in the same drawer and I didn't want to end up with that mess.


Being a used type set and languishing for years in boxes, I had a bad type lice infestation.  As you can see in the picture above, they chewed off nine of the dots on my lower case "i"s and ate all but one of my capital "o"s.  Ah, the price one pays for neglect.  Let me stop playing with you people.  Type lice is an old printer's joke.  Someone painstakingly sawed the dots off those "i"s.  My guess is that they had some sort of creative lock up that required something else in place of the dots.  It would've been clever if they used small dingbats; tiny hearts or stars perhaps?  Anyway, I'm keeping them around in case I get the itch to pull a trick like that.  What the hell happened to the rest of my capital "O"s I'll never know.  I'm hoping I'll get lucky and they will be hiding in another bag but it doesn't seem likely.


After I got everything nice and tidy it was time to play the "what-exactly-is-this?" game.  A little bird (named Garrett) recommended I try out identifont.com.  It utilizes a few different ways of deducing what sort of font you're trying to track down.  I opted for the 20 questions style of search.  It ended up telling me that I probably have a set of Amsterdamer Garamont.  No, fail.  Thanks for nothing.

Well, I shouldn't be so harsh.  At least it tipped me off that it was probably in the Garamond family before I cracked open my hard copy of "American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century" by McGrew. (Anyone who does letterpress needs a copy of this like a preacher needs a bible.)  I found that what I have is a reasonable set of Garamond Bold Italic by Mono.

Good work detective.  This case is closed.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rondo Hatton

I mentioned in the previous post that I did an art trade with a friend.  I created this portrait of Rondo Hatton for her.  I have been meaning to do several portraits and Rondo happened to be one of them.

Rondo was born in Hagerstown, Maryland and grew up in various places in the south before his family ultimately settled in Florida.  There, he joined the Florida National Guard and fought on the Mexican border and then in France during World War I. During his time in France it was reported that

". . .he was exposed to poison gas, was hospitalized with lung injury, and was subsequently medically discharged from service and consigned to a pension. Returning to Tampa, he took employment as a reporter for the "Tampa Tribune," where he worked until 1936, when he moved to Hollywood. At some point after his exposure to the poison gas, he also developed acromegaly, a slowly progressive deforming of bones in the head, hands and feet, and internal and external soft tissues caused by disease of the pituitary gland, which onsets after the individual has reached his full genetic height (under normal pituitary influence), and production of growth hormones resume, but the bone structure can no longer produce symmetric growth (as in giantism). According to all authors, his acromegaly was a result of the poison gas, though typically, it is caused by a tumor on the pituitary. In any event, his worsening disfigurement is thought to have led to his first divorce and certainly was responsible for his being noticed by director Henry King, who was shooting a movie, Hell Harbor (1930), near Tampa. Reporter Hatton was covering the filming, and King offered him a role. Hatton remained a reporter, however, until after his second marriage in 1934; in 1936, he and his new, more faithful wife moved to Hollywood." (- IMDb Mini Biography By: Rich Wannen ) 

For all his portrayal in the pictures as a thug and a monster, he was said to have been very kind and possessed a gentle nature.  Regardless, he has made a lasting impression on pop culture and his images continue to be an influence today.


My friend and I found a picture to use as a reference.  I like this one a lot because despite the dramatic lighting, the pose is very natural.  It seems all the two tone horror heavies were made to take stock photos of themselves in there most "terrifying" poses.  Everything was chiaroscuro, hands were held high in anticipation of a strangulation, and a everybody wore their best grimace.

Some of my favorite pictures of Bela Lugosi are of him smiling with a cigar, enjoying a glass of wine.  Boris Karloff is always cute in his top hat watering his roses and Lon Chaney Jr. naturally had a jovial soft face that was far from threatening.

Alas, that type of stuff does not sell horror movies . . .


In working on this, I've come to realize how much I miss pencil drawing and my watercolor paints.  I find that media very rewarding.  There is a gratification that I get from traditional media that I don't seem to get with digital media.  Part of that is the eye strain that comes with staring at the monitor for long hours.  At any rate, I had to be very conscious of not accidentally smearing my pencil work.  As the drawing progressed, I would mask his face off with tracing paper to keep it protected.


My friend liked the style of "the Brute Man" movie poster text.  I tried to mimic the rough painted quality.  I actually had to sketch it out on a separate paper and then trace it onto the illustration board.


Now, I still love pencil drawing but shading in the background and some parts of his coat got downright monotonous.  I think I had to go over the background about three or four times to get the shading I wanted.  When I decided to shade it again for about the fourth time, that voice in the back of my head groaned, "Seriously?!?"


I love illustration board but I still haven't mastered a way to keep it from buckling when you apply a watercolor wash to it.  It warped badly initially but flattened more later as it settled into itself.

My one regret is that I lined the text with watercolor and not gouache.  I got the color I liked but not the opacity. On a quest for improvement and also to get more practice in Illustrator, I recreated the text in vector form.  I like the color better and the sharper look.

We have since traded art but I made sure to get a scan and print of the work I did.  I couldn't let Rondo go that easily!  Here's where the tale gets a little sad.  On it's way to various places, I received numerous responses from "Oh, cool! Rondo!" to "Well, that's interesting." But it is clear when people initially see it they are jarred.  I have been asked on more than one occasion, "Ugh, why would you draw something like that?"

This is a portrait.  This is a picture of a man who is sitting in a pretty nonthreatening pose with his hands loosely clasped.  Perhaps people don't realize that Rondo Hatton was a real person and that at the end of the day there was no mask to take off.