Subject matter: Animals heads on human bodies. For this colored pencil project I suggest students use ordinary marker layout bond. Some prefer smooth bristol board. Recommended pencils brands are Prismacolor or Derwent.
I have been on tour with my kid’s books, so I haven’t been posting much. These images speak for themselves. All done by sophomores in the Kutztown University Communication Design program. Enjoy.
Kelly Brong has a sketchbook full of fantastic sketches on tones paper. She got permission to use grey paper for the above portrait.
Leah Tierney impressed me by even attempting to portray the circus crowd.
The Knitting Cat , above, and the Rammy fellow, below, are a tad sketchier than most images, In both cases the subtle color and careful mark making are truly exceptional.
Robin Hoot is the name someone came up with for the image above, my fave. 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 makes the colors mushy, but in moderation it’s a special effect worth trying.
Speaking of alcohol and moderation, Shannon Roser’s Crowbar is atmospheric, isn’t it?
I met Robert Weaver in September 1984 on day one of the MFA Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts. First thing I noticed about him was he was white. With his thick glasses, clear diction, and gentlemanly manner he looked like Jimmy Stewart playing James Thurber. I’d expected he’d be black.
During that summer I’d looked up all my future teachers’ names in the card catalog at the Hoboken Public Library. I found the children’s picture book he illustrated called Me Day. Drawn in pencil, Me Day tells the story of a black boy and his desperate desire to spend a day with his estranged father.
It’s a beautiful book set in Harlem. Everyone in the boy’s world from the postman to the hot dog vendor is black. The drawings were so right. Every individual face, hand and gesture rang so true that l presumed the artist had to be black.
He stood there in his gray sports coat and told the class to call him Bob. He didn’t like to be called Mr. Weaver. Some of us took to calling him Professor Bob which seemed to amuse him. Behind his back we called him “The Weave.”
The Weave grew up in Pittsburgh. During World War II he was a conscientious objector and spent the war years toiling in a mental hospital. In Italy after the war he worked on his sketchbooks. He believed an illustrator was obliged to truthfully document our world.
He began our 1984 grad school year with assignments that were a bit vague, telling us to “go find a construction site, or excavation, or somewhere else” where we could draw a record of some visible change over a two-week period. We all failed the assignment.
When the day came that we pinned our paltry drawings to the crit wall, he paced back and forth. He examined each drawing for a long time. He’d get so close it looked like he was going to walk through the wall into the next room. His eyesight obviously was impaired. He informed us he had a very limited field of vision, but he could see fine at very close distances. That first crit was devastating. He told us the drawings were lazy. He told us he expected more, much more. His undergrad students did more, and weren’t we graduate students? The students exchanged glances and raised eyebrows. What’s with the Weave? ‘How exciting can a hole in the ground get?’ someone protested. He listened to excuses about the hassles of moving to the city or finding affordable art supplies, or the right site to draw, the weather. He told us he found our excuses much more fascinating than our drawings, and said he hoped we could someday get that sort of narrative power in our artwork. Brutal.
Not long after that he changed his approach to our class. It got quite interesting. He brought in remarkable models – the overdressed character actress, the jazz drummer, the window washer – and we drew in class.
The window washer was a big soft-spoken black man with a club foot. He climbed out the classroom window nine stories over Second Avenue. He hooked his harness onto tiny buttons built into the window casement and inched his way across the front of the building. When l complimented Professor Bob on his choice of a model, he confided with some pride that he had invoiced the school for a “visiting lecturer” rather than “life model” so that he could pay the man a bit more. Besides, the windows were sparkling at the end of class..
One night my wife had to work late and I couldn’t find a sitter, so I brought my daughter Zoe to class. She was a toddler then, and it was the night he’d hired the jazz drummer. The drummer did the longest drum solo I ever hope to hear. Zoe loved it. She picked up some paper scraps, waved them in the air, and danced around the drummer. I tried to get her to calm down. “Let her go,· said Weaver. “She’s giving us more to draw.”
The Weave was a great talker. He quoted the classics the way another man might cough. He would quote: Shakespeare, Shaw, Dostoevsky, his opthalmologist. He loved William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” and he recited it to the class more than once. It is a poem about seeing, about how much depends on unremarkable objects that we sometimes take for granted.
He insisted that we draw from life rather than photos whenever possible. He was very keen on what historians call primary material. He told a story about an art student he met at a bus stop. The student was headed up to the picture file at the New York Public Library.
“What sort of photo reference are you looking for?”‘ Weaver asked.
“A bus.” said the student.
“What sort of bus?” he asked.
“A regular bus. A New York City bus.”
“Why don’t you stay on this corner and draw a bus stopped in traffic?”
“Photos are better,” said the student as he hopped on the bus.
One day he showed us his famous series of drawings of Ebbets Field after it had been forsaken by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He talked about growing up in Pittsburgh during the Depression, how he and his brother didn’t have enough money for bleacher seats, but they would still go out to Forbes Field. They would stand outside the stadium. They couldn’t see the playing field, but they could see part of the crowd, and they could hear the crack of the bat and the cheers when the Pirates scored a run.
The Weave told us about the time he was a spear carrier in a production of Julius Caesar at Lincoln Center. His brother Fritz Weaver, the actor, got him the job. He had no lines. He said he was a ‘supernumerary.’ I had never heard that word before. He just stood there in a toga and sandals with his hair combed forward. It was a long run and after a while he began to find his stage career tedious. Then one night he looked out into the audience and everything seemed transformed. He found himself observing the clothes and even the facial expressions of the theater goers and wondered why he hadn’t done it before. Suddenly he realized it was because he couldn’t see that far. He was wearing his glasses on stage.
His stories might have seemed like digressions, but they always related to the central theme of his teaching, – the power and poignancy of observation.
I’ll always remember this. It was very late in the school year. After the others left class, I told him I didn’t think I’d come back for the second year of the two-year program. He asked why. I couldn’t really explain clearly, but I felt in my bones that I did not belong there. I really liked my classmates, and I drew as well as some, but I felt very different from them. The best seemed to me to be catching on to something, developing a certain polish to their work and in their personalities. I could see they were becoming artists. I couldn’t see myself ever reaching that point. I was quick to add that I’d learned a lot from him and it was not a problem with the school. It was me, All my life I loved art and books and learning, but never felt I quite belonged in any school or group. The Weave’s head went back, he seemed startled. “Is that how you feel?” he asked. “Well, that’s … great! That’s fantastic!” he said. “You’ve got to nurture that. You’ve got to cultivate that. That sense that you don’t belong. That’s what makes an artist. Artists don’t belong.”
He was dead serious. “It’s the person who crashes the party who really observes everything, isn’t it? The artist is the uninvited guest. The kid without a penny and his nose pressed to the glass of the bakery window. Isn’t he the only one that really knows the significance of what’s inside? Don’t you see? You’ve got to put yourself where you don’t belong to have any hope of making art. You’ve got to decide about school for yourself, but that’s a precious gift you’ve got, that feeling that you don’t belong.”
I told him I’d think about what he’d said, and I did. I did the second year and got my MFA. There have been times since when I have felt alone and out-of-place and I have taken some solace from his words. Other times, when I feel more comfortable. I start to feel like I belong, then I recall the haunting words of the Weave. It isa precious gift, the feeling that you don’t belong!
Kutztown illustration students went on a field trip to The Pencil Factory, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to visit a great illustrator, Paul Hoppe. Paul grew up in Germany and his name is pronounced something like “Powell Hopp-uh.” He is a graduate, like me, of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at SVA. He also teaches in SVA’s summer program.
Paul doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet. If SVA illustration has a core philosophy, it revolves around self-propulsion. When you don’t have a job, – you make a job. I first met Paul selling his handcrafted comic zines at Moccafest. His mini-comic superheroes channel 20th century Marvel heroes, but get into NSFW jams.
Today Paul works in a large shared space with other four artists on the fifth floor of the old Eberhart Faber Pencil Factory. Paul used to work from home, but he enjoys the sense of community. He has been able to grow his business to afford the studio rent. Paul was up against a tight deadline for a children’s picture book set in Brazil. He showed us his sketches for the project, Neymar: A Soccer Dream Come True by Mina Javaherbin coming in 2018 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Jasu Hu is from China. She got her graduate degree from MICA in Baltimore. She draws metaphorical figurative work. She says she does 4 or 5 commissions a week!
She has an illustration each month in Oprah magazine. She showed work she does for trade magazines, the sort you don’t often see on newsstands. Come to think of it, how often do you see a newsstand?
Alex Eben Meyer, is originally from Eastern PA. He studied at Wash U in St. Louis. His illustration style differs from his studiomates. His unlined vector images remind me of Matisse’s paper cut-outs.
Alex passed around his recent sketchbooks and noted that he continues to go to life drawing classes. He was working on a big project for MIT lab and just got back preliminary images from a children’s book about the concept of opposites for Abrams.
Neil Swaab has a diverse portfolio. He is a graphic designer specializing in book covers. He self-syndicated a comic, Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles, in the indy press. He has done animation on “Super Jail,” been an in-house art director, and taught at Parsons/The New School. Students asked the artists about their grad school experience. Neil’s advice: “Don’t go to grad school until you’ve worked awhile.” and, “It is all about finding your voice as an artist.”
Coming from a Kutztown perspective, it was invigorating to see such a concentration of amazing creative talent. There are more illustrators in the Pencil Factory than in some states. Many thanks to all the artists in Pencil Factory’s Studio 515.
After our Pencil Factory studio tour we walked to Transmitter Park on the East River. We spent the afternoon sketching. It was a perfect fall day.
Illustrator Ryan Lynn, 2006, BFA, Communication Design, is doing fine, thanks. I remember covering my ears when Ryan’s punk band, The Aurora, rocked the Trexlertown Grange, around 2005. His music career may have faded, but his artistic energy certainly hasn’t waned. He just completed the biggest illustration job of his career. His slightly-retro super-graphic style is the perfect match for this project.
He writes, “I was approached by Miller Lite to create a series of illustrations for 15 NFL teams that were to appear on posters, billboards, and other materials in each NFL team’s market. These illustrations were created in the Miller Lite illustration style that I helped establish in their Summer Poster Campaign.
As a huge NFL fan, it was awesome to get to work on this series and immerse myself in each NFL team’s colors, attitude, and traditions.
Question: How did this job come to you?
Ryan: I’ve been working with Miller Lite’s agency of record for about a year. I got an email from them one day out of the blue asking if I could do a poster series for the summer (the dragon and octopus, plus a robot one that never got finished). After that, I kept working with them on some billboards and trade show graphics before getting the NFL series.
Q: How long did it take?
Ryan: It was a tight turnaround – 15 posters took around 5 straight months without weekends or holidays. I even had to skip a cousin’s wedding!
Q: You are an Eagles fan, but strictly from a graphics point of view, which image is your favorite?
Ryan: I’m pretty happy with how they all turned out. If I had to pick, I like the Ravens because it has a lot of detail. The Steelers is cool, too.
Q: What size is your original art?
Ryan: They are all the same size 24” x 36”. Each poster also has a landscape version as well. The final illustrations had to be vector so their team could put them on billboards, buildings and whatever else.
Q: Have you gone to any of the Stadiums to see these?
Ryan: Not yet! I don’t know if they all are going to be in their stadiums. I know the Atlanta Falcons illustration is in their stadium bar and there was talk of the Texans putting theirs on a mural, but I don’t know.
Ryan: Miller Lite illustrations for Major League Baseball!
Thanks, Ryan. All I can say is “Wow!” Your artwork is solid and just right for NFL.
Visit Ryan’s website and shop to snag listed edition sic-fi art and gig posters for as at little as $20. Ryan is still into music. Below is his poster for Cruisr, the hit band that includes two KU design grads, Andy States and Jon Van Dine.
Marshall Arisman’s Retrospective is stunning. If you get to New York City, see it before it closes on Sept 16. If you can’t get there, watch this 10-minute video tour .
I remember the day I met Marshall Arisman. It was 1984. I went to his office at School of Visual Arts after seeing an ad in the NY Times for a new degree program, The MFA in Visual Journalism. The ad showcased in bold headlines a stellar faculty line up: Tom Wicker, Pete Hamill, Robert Weaver, James McMullan, Marshall Arisman.
Marshall sat at a big desk, wearing a camel-colored cashmere sweater. I showed him my cartoons and spot illustrations for The NY Times and Village Voice. He laughed at some. He told me I should apply. I told him I wanted to apply, but had a problem. I’d dropped out college and didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. He laughed harder then. He said I couldn’t enter the MFA program without a bachelor’s degree.
I pointed out the fine print on the SVA MFA application. “Must have 10 slides, a biographical essay, 2 letters of reference, and a transcript of an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.” Then it said, “Any of the above requirements can be waived by the chairperson.” Marshall waved his hands over his desk as if to say ‘meeting over.’ He told me he might waive a letter of reference, or slides, but he couldn’t waive the undergraduate degree, New York State would take away his program’s accreditation.
I asked if he could let me in conditionally. “If I get a bachelor’s degree before I finish the MFA program, can I get in?” I told him how much I wanted to study with him and the writers and artists in the ad. I kept talking. He was looking at me askance. He asked if I would like a cup of coffee. I said sure, and looked around his office for a coffee maker. He said, “Let’s go outside.” He lit an unfiltered cigarette the moment we hit the sidewalk of 23rd street. We walked across the street to a coffee shop on the corner of Third Ave. He bought me a cup of coffee. He shook my hand and told me he needed to get back to work. I drank my coffee on the street corner. Yes, it did occur to me our the trip to the coffee shop was his way to get me out of his office.
I got in the MFA program. I worked on my bachelor’s degree simultaneously with the SVA night classes. One night of the week we studied with Robert Weaver, next night, Marshall Arisman, then Jim McMullan, then Steve Heller teaching Illustration History. Alas, the heavyweight writers, Wicker and Hamill never showed. Arthur Pincus, a sports editor for the NY Times was our writing coach. He was a good writer. The other students, all better artists than I, didn’t care much about the writing component.
Marshall is one of the word’s great storytellers. His delivery is so dry, it may be an acquired taste. Marshall told us that he could read auras. His grandma was a psychic. The first aura he ever witnessed was during a lecture by Krishnamurti at Carnegie Hall. Great wings of light blasted from Indian mystic’s shoulders to fill the entire stage. I asked Marshall if he read our student auras. He said sometimes. I was rude enough to I ask if I left the room and changed my shirt would my aura change? “Auras change all the time, ” he said with a chuckle.
Marshall told me he once saved a life by reading an aura. A fellow wandered into his SVA office and claimed he needed to contact his girlfriend who was in class somewhere in the building. It was an emergency. “What sort of emergency?” asked Marshall. The guy mumbled something about lost keys. Marshall paused, read the man’s aura and saw mad white-hot flashes flying off his face. Marshall said he could call the Registrar to locate the girl. Instead he phoned SVA security and calmly conveyed that he had an immediate problem in his office. Public Safety arrived just in time to subdue the man as he pulled a gun and revealed his true intentions, “I am gonna murder that b_____!”
I recall a lot of things Marshall said in class. He once told us, “Give me 5 good years, that’s the artist’s prayer. ” Well, this retrospective is called Marshall Arisman: An Artist’s Journey from Dark to Light, 1972—2017. That’s 35 years, right? Seems like Marshall Arisman’s prayers were answered seven times over.
Marshall was mobbed at his opening. He stood in the center of the gallery, backed by a troop of his sacred monkey figures. I got a moment to shake his hand and thank him again for all he did for me. He thanked me for coming. I tried to eavesdrop on what he said to his many other well-wishers. He locked eyes with each of them. His lips moved, his eyes lit up. I was inches away, but I could not hear a single syllable Marshall or his partner of the moment said. It was so very strange. It was if they were enveloped in Marshall’s aura, something I will never quite see, but will always respect.
As the semester begins, I warn new students that illustration is a very tough field. Like acting, -the world only needs so many movie stars. On the other hand, I should share success stories of grads doing great work in illustration. Here are a few stellar grads.Take 2017 grad Heather Fox, for example. She made a zine that debuted at MoccaFest 2016. Then she self-published via Amazon’s CreateSpace. She created a retelling of one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, The Elephant’s Nose. She collaborated with her boyfriend Jonathan Stutzman on these projects. Now they have an agent and a real book deal with Putman books for Butts Are Everywhere! I wrote more about Heather and her talented classmate Meredith Shriner here.
Tom Whalen’s collector tix for Rogue One
Tom Whalen, KU CD, 1996, is one of the greatest vector-illustrators in the country. He has worked for major entertainment studios including Disney, Lucasfilm, Paramount, Marvel, DC, and Warner Bros. Above are his collector’s tickets for Rogue One’s theatrical release. Below is one of his posters for Disney/Pixar.
Tom Whalen’s work can be found at Strongstuff.net. Below is a screen grab from his site to give a window into his versatility and prodigious output.
Amanda Geisinger, a 2008 grad from Pottstown, won an Emmy for her work at Nick Digital, part of the Nickelodeon empire. She works on Times Square with Spongebob and other celebrities. Back in 2010, I interviewed her for a blog post I titled, What’s Spongebob Really Like.
See more of Amanda’s work including cool gifs like the one below at her website, AmandaGeisinger.com
I tabled at ALA in Chicago to promote my new Toon book, Something’s Fishy. ALA is the American Library Association’s mega-convention. Over 10,000 librarians and hundreds of authors and illustrators roamed the aisles. Anchored to my table, I still managed to meet some superstar illustrators as they passed by. In front of my display, Greg Pizzoli bumped into his pal Tom Angleberger, creator of the mega-hit Origami Yoda series.
I asked Greg how he came up with the idea for his new book, The Quest for Z. Truth be told, I wish I had thought of it. It began in Greg’s studio while working on his prior nonfiction kid’s book, Tricky Vic. He listened to the audiobook of David Grann’s bestseller, The Lost City of Z: A tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. He was enthralled. “Soon as it finished,” Greg said, “I started it over, I’d never done that before.”
Greg is a 2005 Millersville University of PA grad with an MFA from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. He still lives in Philadelphia where he is part of the printmaking scene. His specialty is serigraphy- silkscreen. He taught for 8 years at the U of Arts before becoming a full-time author and illustrator. He did 8 books in this year ranging from board books to nonfiction picture books. I asked Greg about how he came to do the nonfiction works.
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower started out as a self-published zine. “Self-published is an overstatement,” said Greg, “I printed 100 copies and sent them to friends.” Somebody clearly liked it! Tricky Vic, in the form published by Viking, went on to success, and was selected for The New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2015.
On Sunday at the appointed hour I went to the Penguin Books for Young Readers aisle where Greg was signing books. His line of fans snaked through the aisles much like an image from his ‘Z’ book. I will have to get mine another day!
Chicago was great. I had a good ALA convention and so did Greg. His Good Night Owl won a Geisel Honor.
Hey, Philly! Greg Pizzoli is doing a series of Free Public presentations for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s neighborhood branches. Check your local library. Info: