Death with a Smile

by Jamie Hubert

MUMEDI is the Mexican Museum of Design, near the zocalo in the center of Mexico City. They host an international poster exhibition. The theme  this year is “To Death with a Smile.”

by Sam Mickley

On Facebook, Sam Mickley posted her image (above) and this note, “Found out today that I’m a finalist for the Mumedi International Poster Contest “To Death With A Smile”!  400 finalists were chosen out of thousands of entries, 22 of which were from the US, and out of those 15 were from KUCD!  Congrats to everyone who made it!”

by Andrew Hughmanick

The 15 Kutztown students honored designed these projects in Prof. Vicki Meloney’s and Prof. Elaine Cunfer’s Graphics 1 classes. Here is a selections of their diverse images.

by Elaine Knox
by Elaine Knox

Elaine Knox’s poster above is novel. She explains that she started with the concept of nature’s food chains and decided to depict a venus fly trap.

by Jamie Hubert
by Jamie Hubert

From Punk to The Bible, students found inspiration everywhere. Below is Cambrea Roy’s poster based on Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians.

by Cambrea Roy

Jessica Strohecker created several wonderful images. She is not sure which one MUMEDI selected. Below is just one of her educational images on the concept of sepsis. 

Germs Kill Kill Germs by Jessica Strohecker
Germs Kill Kill Germs by Jessica Strohecker

Here’s an image by Miranda Pokras; it has a Venetian vibe.

by Miranda Pokras
by Miranda Pokras

These posters will be exhibited at MUMEDI, Mexico City for several months. And at the end of 2016, the exhibit will travel to Spain and Finland. As I get more images I will post them. Congrats to all the students and profs involved. We leave with a mysterious, somewhat surreal, illustration by Patrick Coyle.

By Patrick Coyle

Illustration Goes Live!

Neil, Bob and Catherine Porter at Carousel for Kids.
Neil Numberman and my bucket of worms in the dressing room at Dixon Place Theater.
Neil Numberman and my worms in the dressing room at Dixon Place Theater.

Saturday morning I took the Bieber bus to New York City carrying my bucket of worms. The Dixon Place Theater on the Lower East Side was locked when I arrived. A man walked up and asked, “Are you a performer?” I had to think for a New York minute, “Yes!”

Neil, Bob and Catherine Porter at Carousel for Kids.

Bob Sikoryak and Neil Numberman invited me to join a half-dozen other cartoonist/illustrators for a performance of Carousel For Kids. Bob and Neil certainly are performers.

Cover © R Sikoryak 2015
ITunes Terms & Conditions Cover © R Sikoryak 2015

Bob has been getting a lot of well-deserved press for his webcomic adaptation of the ITunes Terms and Conditions. NPR featured the project last week. He manages the formalist trick of illustrating the unreadable, and on top of that, he mimics styles of cartoon masters from Jim Steranko to Ernie Bushmiller. I’ve tried something like it (stylistic homage) with nowhere near the amazing results of Sikoryak. He’s also printed the iTunes Terms as a zine. Makes a great gift for the MacAddict in your life.

Homage to R. Crumb, ITunes Terms & C © 2015. R Sikoryak

Carousel Cartoon Slide Shows & Picture Performances

Since 1997, Bob Sikoryak has been presenting Carousel at one place or another. Back in the day, they used Kodak Carousel projectors, hence the name. I told Bob I thought the current show had a nouveau vaudeville feel. He says he’s presenting visual storytelling inspired by old-time radio variety shows. Over the years  many remarkable artists have participated in Carousels. Everyone from John Porcellino to James SturmRaina Telegemeier to Kaz. Check the full roster here.

Giant Worm © 2015 by Neil Numberman at Carousel.

For the most recent show Neil Numberman created epic cartoon panels to be projected behind the cast. There was a crazed catfish and an Abominable Snowman. Neil even added a monstrous mad worm as a transition to lead into my We Dig Worms! worm race.

Example of Neil Numberman's work for Highlights.
Example of Neil Numberman’s art for Highlights.

Carousel tickets cost $8 for kids, about the price of a movie in Manhattan, and a fraction of the price of a Broadway show. I was impressed by the kids in the audience. There was plenty of audience participation. When the show ended and the lights came up, one little girl, perhaps 5 years old, asked her dad, “Is this the end, or the middle?” Clearly, this wasn’t her first experience with live theater, she knew about intermission!

Cowboy Neil and Spaceman Bob

Stand Up : Build an Audience

In my illustration classes, I find myself imploring students to say something, anything, about their work. One said, ‘I don’t think it’s fair to ask for class participation if we do the work.’ As Prof. Martin Lemelman used to say to his illustration students, “It’s like pulling teeth! If I wanted this, I would have gone to dental school!” My students know they need a digital presence. Sure, but they need a physical presence, too! As print media contracts, digital media disrupts, artists must create new venues, new outlets for their visions. Carousel For Kids demonstrates that illustrators can build an audience if they are true visionaries.

A number of the recent Carousel artists contributed to Fable Comics.

Here are links to the other artists who shared the stage this week. Gregory Benton, Ruben Bolling, Chris Duffy, John Kerschbaum, Catherine Porter. All these energetic artists are worth knowing. The Carousel is a moveable feast, but it will happen again at Dixon Place. To find out when the next Carousel happens go to Sikoryak’s site or friend him on Facebook. May the Carousel continue for many more revolutions!

-Kevin McCloskey

Note: I had to change the look, the theme, of this blog. The old theme didn’t work on phone screens. Unresponsive! Now older posts may look wonky, but if I learned anything from the Carousel, it is this: The show must go on!



Heads Up: Colored Pencil Project

"Weston Sharadin, art student & Highland bull" © Sierra Fry
Beastie Boy Lemur © by Andrew Cygnan
Beastie Boy ‘Mike D’ Lemur © by Andrew Cygan
Merlin © Kylie O'Connor
Merlin © Kylie O’Connor

Scratchboard illustrations from my sophomore classes gained nearly 200 views on day one. So here’s a gallery of their colored pencil projects.

 Big Bad Wolf © by Austin
Big Bad Wolf © by Austin Haas

Animal Head on Human Body

I have been using this assignment for years, getting imaginative combinations. Back in the day, students found three different photos: a head, body and background.

Tiger Dude © Taylor Van Kouten
Tiger Dude © Taylor Van Kooten. Colored pencil with white paint for stars.

Lately I’ve seen students actually google the words “animal head on human body” on their phones. I think of this as a crowd-sourced substitute for individual creativity. Some use Photoshop’s lasso tool to put an existing head on a body, then use the Artograph projectors to copy their Photoshop collage. Still, I must admit, I am getting good work.

“Weston Sharadin, art student & Highland bull” © Sierra Fry

Sierra Fry’s art student bull is brilliant. His last name is Sharadin, which is the name of the art building here. Note the museum sticker on his sketchbook is from MooMA, not MOMA.

“Kip the Space Dog,” © Kaylyn Gustafson

Kayliyn Gustafson based her image on her dog, Kip. I beefed up the contrast as I scanned this image to make her pencil marks in outer space less apparent. It looks stunning with this slight adjustment. I am all about using the computer to make drawings pop. Of course, you can’t do much unless the underlying drawing is excellent, like this portrait of Kip.

Slugger © Samantha Fusco
Slugger © Samantha Fusco

Samantha Fusco’s slugger looks like a Kutztown U baseball card. I told the students there is a university that has a slug for a mascot. Some found that info hard to believe. We leave you with an ambitious image below. It is tough to draw a motorcycle, let alone one ridden by a bulldog.

I suggest students use ordinary marker layout bond. Some prefer smooth bristol board. Recommended pencils brands are Prismacolor or Derwent. One tip with colored pencils is using a bit of isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to blend colors. If used everywhere the alcohol can make the colors mushy, but in moderation it’s a special effect worth trying.

Bulldog motorcyclist © Christian Debuque
Bulldog motorcyclist © Christian Debuque

You may see odd advertisements on these pages. We neither endorse nor profit from these ads; they are WordPress’s sponsors. I have added a link to my Toon Book, We Dig Worms! If you buy it, I will make a small profit, thanks! We Dig Worms! is available wherever books are sold. If you’d like to order from Amazon, click the image below.

Scratchboard: Starting from Scratch

Aesop's Fable, the crow and the fox © 2015 Sierra Fry.
The Frog Prince, Kylie O'Connor
The Frog Prince © 2015 Kylie O’Connor

Kylie O’Connor’s Frog Prince is a wonderful example of scrathboard illustration. She began by painting the basic components, – frog, hand, plants – with brush and ink on a prepared clay-coated board. The horizontal lines were added with a micron, an artist’s felt tip pen with pigmented black ink. She used a scratchboard knife, like the one pictured below, to subtract from the black areas to create a sense of form.

The Hunt's #112 knife placed in a Speedball pen holder.
The Hunt’s #112 scratchboard knife fits in a Speedball pen holder.

Here is a gallery of the best scratchboard images by artists in my Illustration Techniques class. I have 40 students in 2 sections this semester. This is a required sophomore level course for Communication Design majors. Not all of these students want to become illustrators, many will go on to do advertising design or interactive design.

La Llorona, a Mexican folktale © by Rafael Nunez
La Llorona, a Mexican folktale © 2015 by Rafael Nunez

What’s in a name?

This technique is called scratchboard, but we actually use a new material called claybord by Ampersand. It is a stiff panel covered with a fine coat of white clay. I’ve also used the scratchboard called Essdee. This fine product is imported from England, where they call it scraperboard. Essdee is harder to find, but can be ordered via Dick Blick.

There are other materials sold as scratchboard, sometimes referred to as student grade. Alas, these are so flimsy, it is difficult to get good results. It is possible to get the claybord pre-inked in black. I prefer to use the white board in my own illustration. It also makes for a better teaching tool. The second Image above is by Rafael Nunez. Rafael was born in Mexico, where they tell a tale of La Llorona, a crying woman who snatches wandering children. This is a much darker image in style and subject. Here Rafael inked up 95% of the board, but left the boy’s face and shirt pure white to indicate the glow of the lantern.

The Buddha © 2105 Rebecca Murray
Buddha © 2015 Rebecca Murray

Students were asked to pick any folktale, myth, or legend. I was pleased with the diversity of subjects this year.

Aesop's Fable, the crow and the fox © 2015 Sierra Fry.
Aesop’s Fable, the crow and the fox © 2015 Sierra Fry.
The origins of the Jack O'Lantern © 2015 Austin
The origins of the Jack O’Lantern © 2015 Austin Haas

Austin Haas told the class that the original Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin, but a turnip head. He drew the picture to prove it.

An Australian beast © Brook Metzger
The Turramulli, a legendary Australian beast © 2015 Brooke Metzker
Mackenzie version of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson
Mackenzie Delp’s version of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson
The Little Red Hen © Andrew Cygan
An original rendition of The Little Red Hen ©  2015 Andrew Cygan

There are a number of inspiring illustrators working in scratchboard today. Beth Krommes, of Emmaus, PA is a great children’s book illustrator working in the medium. The wonderful literary portraits on your Barnes and Noble bags are by the Canadian illustrator Mark Summers. If you have never tried it, an 8 by10 inch clayboard costs about $10. The scrathboard blade is about $2. It takes some planning, but the results can be impressive, like the work of these Kutztown students.

A Culture Cut in Wood by Alec Dempster

El Arbol Florido, woodcut. All images in the post © 2015 Alec Dempster

Out of the blue, Alec Dempster wrote to tell me about his new book, Lotería Huasteca. I know a good deal about Mexico, but never heard of the Huasteca. This book is both charming and illuminating. Its woodblock prints provide 54 little windows into the Huasteca culture of East-Central Mexico.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 4.14.17 PMOddly enough, last week we had a master woodblock printer from Mexico on Kutztown’s campus, Alan Altamirano. He often advised our students “dibujar sin meido” to “draw without fear.” Alec Dempster draws without fear. His gutsy woodcuts are infused with a profound respect for Mexican culture. I have traveled some of the same highways as Dempster in the mountains of Vera Cruz, but Dempster has seen much more than I. It helps that he is an accomplished musician, and although he is Canadian, he was born in Mexico. It was an invitation to a musical event that launched his Huasteca project.

Carnaval © Alec Dempster

The prints are boldly cut in the tradition of early Taller Grafica Popular prints or the drawings of Jean Charlot.

The text is accessible and informative. The prints are presented in alphabetical order. At one level this alphabetical construct seems odd, but Dempster gives a good introduction. He fashions his presentation after Mexican lotería cards, a deck used for a game something like BINGO. He manages to place the Huasteca creation myth near the beginning with the Arbol Florido pictured above. I love the image of the birds and beasts suckling at the tree’s many breasts.

Alec Dempster’s Amate illustration seems to pulsate off the page.

‘A’ is also for amate. Anyone who visits Mexico will be approached by vendors selling naive prints done on cork-colored amate paper. Dempster chooses to portray a lesser-known use for the ancient paper.

“Today Otomı shamans continue to cut out small figures from amate paper to represent a pantheon of gods associated with agriculture, rain and mountains. In San Pablito, a community in the municipality of Pahuatlån, Puebla, famous for amate paper, the paper figures are used to intercede with the gods for purposes of healing, protection and spiritual purification.”

La Caña  (Sugar Cane) © Alec Dempster

Together with the introduction of cattle farming, sugar cane plantations severely transformed the Mexican landscape. Since the colonial era they have been the main cause of deforestation in the Huasteca.”

El Camåin
El Camåin

Dempster manages to convey much of the power and glory of Mexico. Every one of the images is flanked with a thoughtful descriptive essay, and Dempster’s words are as precise as his cuts.

El Tarango
El Taronga by Alec Dempster

This temporary wooden structure is built for musicians to play on during huapangos. It is also known as cuauhtlapechtli, a Nahuatl word meaning ‘wooden bed’.”

Huasteca is just one of many pre-Hispanic cultures that survive in Mexico. Dempster’s chronicle of the Huasteca is a moving achievement. I learned a lot, and realize I have a lot more to learn about Mexico.

Clearly, a vital heritage is still being passed down in songs, recipes, folkways and art. You can see more sample images at Scribd, here. Lotería Hausteca is published in Erin, Ontario, Canada by Porcupine’s Quill. It can be ordered here through

NOTE: A Book Launch Party for Lotería Huesteca will be held in Toronto, Nov. 2 at the Gladstone Hotel. Starts at 7:30pm. Tickets $10 at the door, or free admission with purchase of the book! Live musical performance by Tlacuatzin direct from Veracruz. 

Real American Prints

Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.
Comanche Kiowa, Jason Lujan, 2014, serigraphy on mylar stretchers.

Alan Altamirano, the printmaker from Oaxaca, and I visited IPCNY, International Center for the Prints, NY.  It can be hard to find the first time you look for it. If you walk the High Line in the Chelsea gallery district you might spot the signage in their 5th floor windows on the south side of 26th St.  Enter 508 W. 26th St and you can ride an old gated elevator with a human operator up to the gallery.

There is always something interesting there. One of the two current exhibitions is  “Weaving Past into Present: Experiments in Contemporary Native American Printmaking.” There are over 40 works by artists who identify as Native Americans: Mohawk, Seneca, Navajo, Flathead/Salish, Chiricahua Apache, Cree, and more.

The work pictured above is food for thought. Perhaps the naming of military helicopters was meant to pay the Kiowa and Comanche warriors a compliment. Seems Jason Lujan sampled the graphic images directly from the instruction sheets for Tamiya plastic model kits.

Assembly instruction sheet for Kiowa helicopter model.
Assembly instruction sheet for Kiowa helicopter model. (detail)

Earlier in the day I seen a room chuck full of Andy Warhol’s Campell soup cans at MOMA. I had forgotten his Cream of Asparagus. Warhol and Lujan remind us that appropriation is a given in the fine art world.

Brad Kahlhamer, Looking for Water, 2004, intaglio
Looking for Water, Brad Kahlhamer, 2004, intaglio

I especially liked the expressionistic etchings by Brad Kahlhamer. They seem quite original and energetic. For me they evoke animal totems, handmade maps, and sketchbook art.

Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.
Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.

My friend Alan Altamirano was most impressed by Alan Michelson‘s meticulously constructed paper houses. Altamirano is quick to admit he can’t read English, but he appreciated the tonal effect of the text and he presumed that the writing was a personal reflection on the concept of home. He noted that had seen prints transformed into three dimensions before, but these he found particularly well done.

Screenshot from ICPNY website.
Screenshot from ICPNY website.

There are over 40 works in the exhibition in a wide range of styles. The show runs until Nov.10 and then might travel. All of the prints can be seen on the ICPNY website. There is also a contextual essay by the curator, Sarah Diver, explaining some of the specific events in U.S. history referenced by these works.

My grandmother was an Indian, can you tell?
My Grandmother was an Indian. Can you tell? Lynn Allen Litho, chine collé

ICPNY’s website is worth a visit for its up-to-date list of NYC galleries specializing in prints. ICPNY is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the print, so they are not in competition with commercial fine art galleries. If you ask the staff will gladly point you in the direction of other worthwhile print exhibitions in the neighborhood. We would not have know about the Shepard Fairy show at the Pace Prints if we hadn’t asked.

Orale! Alan Altamirano esta en Kutztown.

One of his grand-scale relief prints.
Alan Altamirano preparing his prints for display at Kutztown University. photo: K . McCloskey
Alan Altamirano preparing prints for display at Kutztown U. photos: K. McCloskey

Alan Altamirano makes art about women, beautiful women. The 27-year old artist is from Oaxaca, Mexico, a city famed for its food and visual arts. Like many of the best Oaxacan artists of his generation he studied with Maestro Shinzaburo Takeda at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Benito Juarez, Oaxaca.

Evan Summer admire a portfolio etchings.
Prof. Evan Summer admires a portfolio of etchings.

Today I spent the day with Alan hanging his large-scale wood block prints in the Student Gallery in Sharadin. When printmaking Prof. Evan Summer visited, Alan shared a portfolio of etchings based on indigenous Zapotec cosmology. Even these etchings portrayed the cardinal elements: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire as women.

One of his grand-scale relief prints.
One of Alan Altamirano’s grand-scale relief prints.

Some of his models he has known for years. Others Alan met for as little as an hour. In many portraits he includes decorative geometry and elements from nature. The image above is of a Puerto Rican woman he met who told Alan about her memory of her beloved uncle. Her uncle, a fisherman, was swept away at sea and drowned. The drowned man appears to her left. Another male figure, the barefoot campesino, walking across the foreground represents her father. This artwork is a stunning example of relief printing, or xilographia, as it is called in Spanish. Here, Alan carved the image not into wood, but MDF, or multi-density fiberboard.

Alan working on print above. Photo from
Alan Altamirano working on print above. Photo from

RECEPTION Oct 8 4pm Sharadin Student Gallery:

Alan Altamirano’s extraordinary prints will be on display in Sharadin October 6-12, with an artist’s reception at 4pm on Thursday, Oct. 8. This is remarkable work. He will be on campus the following week meeting with interested students. The exhibition and his 2-week residency at Kutztown is funded by the Fine Art and Communication Design Depts. and a generous grant from the Kutztown University Sesquicentennial Committee.

11921987_10207631550164792_1547332123_nKutztown students have a unique opportunity to study with Alan in Oaxaca as part of Kevin McCloskey’s Winterterm course. Alan invites visiting artists to work in his studio. He also offers frequent workshops for printmakers at any level at his Taller Chicharra. See Norma Shafer’s Oaxaca Cultural Navigator for more images from his studio.