Puentes, Si! Muros, No! –Bridges, Yes! Walls, No! is at Kutztown U’s Student Gallery until Feb 9. Five Kutztown art students joined me for a 17-study abroad course in Oaxaca, Mexico. We just got back last week. Woodblock prints they made in Mexico are on display along with prints from prior Mexico study-abroad students and noted Mexican artists. I am proud of this gutsy group of students, all female, and their successful cultural exchange. We worked in Taller Chicharra with Alan Altamirano, the energetic young artist who came to Kutztown last year.
I say gutsy because even in the best of times, college students typically prefer to study abroad in English-speaking countries, think Britain, Ireland, Australia. I’ve taught 4 courses in Mexico, every year it gets harder to recruit students. Last year, as you may have noticed, Donald Trump began his campaign with demeaning insults to Mexico. That said, these students managed to have a rewarding cultural exchange with warm and hardworking people of the great country of Mexico.
Jesse Todero, a freshman majoring in Art Ed, was taken by flowers blooming in January. Most days the temperatures got into the 80’s.
Samantha Kahres fell in love with the mountain landscapes of Oaxaca from the moment we landed. Patt McCloskey made a print, too, based on the balloon sellers in Oaxaca’s zocalo, or center square.
I am not sure if it was the hot sun and tropical fruits that influenced Miranda Pells. It might have been a motif she saw on the textiles or pottery we studied.
My piece, above, is based in part on a pre-Hispanic sculpture I saw and the night we spent ringside at the Lucha Libre.
It is my sincere hope more U.S. college students will have the courage to visit Mexico, Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It is a big world. We need to build bridges, not walls.
As always, all images copyright the individual artists. Opinions expressed are mine and not those of Kutztown University.
MACO stands for Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca. We had the good fortune to visit during the XVII Rufino Tamayo Biennial Exhibition. Tamayo, born in Oaxaca, was one of the great Mexican painters of the 20th century.The exhibition of 50 artworks ranging from abstraction to realism is a juried show of painters working in the region.
The witty mixed-media work by Victor Suiser, above, is called “Tepeyollotl ruge con la voz de cuatrocientos jergas” Roughly translates, maybe, to “The Jaguar/Earth God roars with the voice of 400 hoodies.” (thanks, Google) Those are ten peso coins for eyes.
The work above, Suave Patria, Smooth Country, by Sergio Garvel is oil paint and gold leaf on canvas. It recalls the tzompantli , or skull racks of the Aztecs and Maya. The shopping cart might reference the carts protesters filled with stones during Oaxaca’s street battles of 2006.
The art students with me pointed out their favorite paintings. Several were drawn to Fernando Motilla Zarur’s photo-realistic self-portrait, oil on canvas, 2015. MACO is worth a visit no matter what is on the walls. The historic building was long ago the home of Spanish nobility. It was said to have been a home of the Conquistador Hernando Cortez, though historians now dispute that idea.
Fragments of 17th century murals adorn the walls. You can see them beside Zarur’s self-portrait(above). Sarape #1 , (below) by Paul Muguet, 2016, was done with spray paint and masking tape. This homage to the humble blanket design in the context of a contemporary art museum is eye-poppping and provocative.
Statuesque nudes on a runway is a jolting idea for a narrative painting. That is the theme of Samuel Melendrez Bayardo work, “El Aeropuerto de Paul,” oil on canvas, 2015.
Veronica Conzuelo Macedo’s “Sorri mom I love graf” (detail, above) is a 21st century spin on the classic Mexican landscape. It is done in egg tempera on linen over wood.
This is just a small sample of the remarkable art in the exhibition. Some images were gritty, some witty, and few, I admit, I could not appreciate. Overall, however, I was struck by the keen technical skill and intelligence of the selected artists.
MACO’s facebook page will have details about hours, and current exhibitions. I will leave you with one last image – A photo by Kutztown University student Samantha Kahres of a tourist admiring Siempre Verde (Always Green) by Anja Gerecke in MACO’s back patio.
KU Grad Matt Twombly posted on Facebook that he had left his job at National Geographic and begin freelancing in 2015. He was a stellar student and won the Don Breter Illustration award when he graduated in 2008. So, I was curious about his transition and sent him some questions.
1. What was your job title at National Geographic?
Matt Twombly: Graphic Editor. The job was basically designing, researching, and illustrating graphics. One project might call for a data visualization of some kind, say a chart, diagram, or graph, and another might be better suited for an illustration. But I left that in December 2015.
2. Why did you leave NG? Did the recent acquisition by Fox have anything to do with it?
In short, no. It was a hard decision leaving the Geographic. At times I felt like I was crazy and at other times a transition felt necessary. Basically, it came down to reasons outside my professional life. I wanted to buy a house and set up the foundation for starting a family. DC is great, but expensive. Plus, my wife was offered a position up here (PA) in her old school district, which got her out of teaching in DC public schools, something pretty much unsustainable for even the most dedicated. So we took advantage of that offer to move back to PA.
Coincidentally, the merger with Fox and creation of what is now National Geographic Partners happened just as I was leaving, but it wasn’t a motivating factor for me. The magazine was facing some big changes and up against some big challenges, but nothing that the entire magazine publishing industry as a whole wasn’t already up against. With the merger, some good talent left, or was pushed out, but I was still thankful for the job I had. Not to mention the fact that the staff there, and the graphics team especially, was moving ahead and would keep doing some great work.
3. What did you learn from freelancers at National Geographic?
The most important lesson I learned is what it’s like for the editor on the other side, – hiring freelancers. That was me for a time. A lot of editors find freelancers they like and keep going back to them again and again. Freelancers we worked with were known for their specialty, either a specific style or a specific subject matter: space art guy, 3D guy, paleo art guy, etc.
Freelancers we used regularly had already established themselves in a particular specialty. But they we all very professional, never missed deadlines, always delivered and didn’t push back on feedback from us. If you get a chance to do a job, do it well and you’ll be asked again some day.
4. How did I you get your first freelance job?
Well, some of my first freelance jobs came while still at the Geographic. Someone might see my work in the magazine. Or word of mouth. Mutual friends or colleagues might recommend me. In my case, the first big job, a poster for the Parks Service in Alaska, came from an ex-employee I had known from the Geographic who already had her own working relationship with NPS.
Poster for National Parks Service, Alaska, Archaeology Month, 2016
Not much has changed in how I land jobs now. How I get jobs from National Geographic now probably goes without saying. They know me, know what I’m good at. But I’ve been able to work with some new clients in my first year freelancing. Most of them just by introducing my work to the appropriate editor/art director. Obviously, a lot of people know the Geographic’s work and some are already familiar with my work, so that gives me one advantage. Also, some people from the Geographic (or my first publication, Science) now work at other publications. So in most cases I’ve just sent email introductions.
5. How much time do you spend on self-promotion?
Probably not enough. It can be awkward reaching out, especially to total strangers. And it’s discouraging if you fail to get a response. While I was on staff at NGM, I’d occasionally get a mailer or mass email from illustrators hoping to get work. Most of the time, that didn’t have a big effect on my hiring an illustrator. Part of that is because NGM requires such niche work. But just as much because editors already had a trusted pool of freelancers to draw from. Breaking into that is tough. For that reason, as a freelancer I opt for personal email introductions with a link to my website.
These days most of my self promotion is through social media (Instagram and Twitter) and the occasional email self-promotion.
6. Did typography classes from Kutztown pay off?
Ha, I’m probably the wrong person to ask. At the very least, I think it’s important to have an appreciation for type and all of its crazy intricacies. KU classes were certainly my introduction to that.
7. Any big ambitions or particular projects?
The biggest one is continuing with the professional relationships I’ve made this past year. Hopefully expanding that net wider to more publications. I’d also like to diversify my sources of income. What I mean is find other things besides illustration for publications to make money for myself. Whether that means making handmade goods, collaborating with other businesses, or even teaching in some capacity, I’m open to it all. One thing I’ve gotten into is making art prints to sell on Etsy or Society 6. It’s small potatoes now, but it’s fun and personally gratifying. I’d really like to turn that into something bigger!
Christopher Irving sent me a deck of strange and colorful cards. He is an historian of pop culture, especially comics, and co-author of the book “Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics.”
In Spring 2016 Christopher Irving launched a Kickstarter to create Four Color Trading Cards “celebrating public domain comic book characters from the 1930s through 1960s as possible.” Some of these are very obscure superheroes. I’d never heard of the Blue Lady or The Black Owl or Airboy. I wondered if he’d invented them, but they appear to be real.
Irving has since expanded his Four Color card collection to include new superheroes who may or may not be obscure tomorrow. Below is Dean Haspiel‘s new webcomic hero Red Hook, named for the embattled Brooklyn neighborhood.
Haspiel’s Red Hook is a fast-paced epic, drawn with verve. Best of all, you can read it for free at Webtoons.
It could be Irving’s careful curation of the deck, but I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of mid-twentieth century superheroes. The deck has more super women and persons of color than I expected. Take the Green Turtle. The only Green Turtle I knew was a 60’s hippy bus that made regular runs from New York to San Francisco. This Green Turtle is an amazing Asian superhero.
According the to back matter the Green Turtle was drawn by Chinese-American artist Chu F. Hing. The Green Turtle fought the Japanese occupying China during World War II. When his publisher (Blazing Comics, 1944) did not permit him to make the Green Turtle Chinese, Hing cleverly skirted around the character’s origins and ethnicity (his face was always blocked or in the shadows).
Ace Harlem, below, appeared in All-Negro comics #1, 1947. He was drawn by African-American artist John Terrell. Alas, that venture folded after one issue.
War Nurse, created by Jill Elgin, 1941, was British nurse who fought Nazis. Wow! Here is another comic book I’d love to get my hands on. Meanwhile, I am tickled to pore over the amazing eye candy of Four Color Cards.
Prof. Elaine Cunfer teaches a 7-week illustration Visual Essay class in which she asks students to step outside their comfort zone. Works from the Fall 2016 seminar are currently on exhibit in Kutztown’s Rohrbach Library.
Meredith Shriner chose to draw her essay about The Bread Lady at Renninger’s Farmer’s Market. Carolyn Zimmerman, started her bread business in 2012 on the weekend that Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. Meredith first met the Bread Lady when she visited her stand this fall for this illustration project.
Meredith’s poster says, “Carolyn Zimmerman, otherwise known as “The Bread Lady,” runs a stand by the same name… She is a kind, funny, and thoughtful person who genuinely enjoys her job as it offers a way to both serve people and put smiles on their faces.”
Yu Wen Sun (Sue) is an international student from China. She spoke with KU Professor Bill Donner, Phd, about the legend of the Groundhog. Donner is author of “Serious Nonsense: Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German Heritage” published this year by Penn State Press. “Sue really grasped the spirit of the project and started in the summer by visiting and talking to people at the Kutztown Folk Festival.” said Prof. Cunfer.
Below is another project that has a PA German heritage connection. Deanna Black interviewed Rachel Yoder, MFA student, about her new children’s book, Penny Olive. Rachel was thrilled by the poster and she and Deanna have bonded as fellow artists.
Personally, I prefer the projects above where KU student artists actually interacted with a living person. At my old school, SVA , students did visual essays about the non-faculty employees. Turns out many of the cafeteria ladies, the elevator operators, the night janitors were immigrants with fascinating biographies. Prof. Cunfer, however, does not require an interview. She permits research-based projects. Of those, I found Heather Fox’s poster on Peter Miller and his massive colonial book, The Martyr’s Mirror, most fascinating.
In another research-based project, Katelynn Chambers tells the story of Nolde Forest , a state park not too far from Kutztown. It is beautifully drawn.
Prof. Cunfer explains the project like so: Communication Design Seniors concentrating in illustration complete a half-semester course entitled Visual Essay in which they use illustration as a medium for reportage. Students were assigned to create an illustration based visual essay in a poster form. These posters could profile any aspect of historical/cultural significance, a unique life experience, and/or an interesting person in Kutztown (or very local area) outside the traditional student microcosm. Students were expected to go out into the local community and interview their subjects, as well as research life, culture and folklore of their subjects. Students gained a new appreciation of their lives in Kutztown.
Katie Bertolet researched the history of the landmark Pagoda that overlooks Reading.
There are over a dozen more examples of these visual essays on display on the walls at Rohrbach Library. If you are near Kutztown, the exhibition is worth a visit. Prof. Cunfer’s visual essay project is a great example of community outreach. At the library exhibition opening I overheard Ms. Zimmerman, the Bread Lady, exclaim, “Next time I hear anybody talking bad about Kutztown University students, I am going to tell them about Meredith.”
I showed my Digital Illustration class Frank Viva‘s illustrated book, Sea Change. The typography is wonderful. The Globe and Mail put it nicely, “With Sea Change, a graphic novel in the truest sense, author and designer Frank Viva blurs the lines between written word and illustration.”
Sea Change is published by Toon Books as part of their Toon Graphics series. Toon Books has a free teacher’s lesson plan for every one of their titles. The guide to Sea Change notes “Text can do much more than simply communicate the plot of the story. Text can be playfully designed, arranged, or organized to add another layer of visual meaning to the narrative.”
I asked my students to be inspired by Sea Change. They were to pick an evocative line of type and weave it into an illustration. They were to make type an integral element of the image. We also considered Viva’s use of a limited palette. They could pick their personal palette of 5 colors plus black. I usually find artwork about boredom, um, boring, but I was impressed by Christian Dubuque’s moody piece, above.
Rafael Nunez-Castaneda, Kylie O’Connor, and Julia Taft all illustrated inspirational quotations. Rafael and Kylie didn’t limit their palettes much, but worked the type in well.
Below is an image that looks like a Valentine card by Kaitlyn Reber. I should note the students are working in Adobe illustrator and Photoshop on Wacom tablets.
Most of the students in the class are far better with digital media than I am. I hope they continue to play with typography and some are inspired more work in this manner.
Type is a specialty of the Kutztown Communication Design curriculum. Type is not something I teach, but I have picked up some typographic knowledge by osmosis. I remember when nearly every kid’s book was done in New Century Schoolbook. If you haven’t looked a children’s book lately, there has been a revolution in type. Our students, following the likes of the great Frank Viva, are joining that revolution.
We have a world-class illustrator here at Kutztown University. Her name is Elham Atayi. A grad student from Iran, yes. IRAN!, she’s working on her MFA in Communication Design. Steve Heller, one of the most important design writers in the U.S, admires her work. Heller did a wonderful interview via email with Elham in 2015 for Print Magazine before she ever arrived in the U.S.A.
Elham has illustrated several children’s books for the Lebanese publisher, Asala. She would love to illustrate a children’s book for a U.S. publisher. She is learning it isn’t easy.
Elham just won another international award. She was selected as one of the Top 10 Illustrators of 2016 by COW (Center Of the World) festival. The award is presented by The Ukranian Design Guild. The COW award might sound funny, however, the jury included Anita Kunz of Canada and Francisco Valle of Brazil, among other world famous artists.
Elham has also been selected as a finalist for Shanghai’s Golden Pinwheel design award. At Kutztown she is working to develop computer animations in her distinctive style.
There is a need for diverse books for children in the U.S today. I can’t think of any artist better suited to illustrate a story set in Iran than Elham Atayi. She also has drawn commentaries on modern life in her homeland. If you would like to see more of Elham’s work or contact her, visit her Behance page here.