Gonzo Sketching with the Great Ted Michalowski

14468242_10154147444014234_2242321415096126844_oYou have seen Ted Michalowski’s art on TV. He’s done courtroom reporting for ABC, CBS, CNN, all the major networks. He is an energetic part of the Scranton, PA art scene. When I say he is a ringmaster, it is not a metaphor, he has worked with the circus. His is a 4-time winner of the Electric City ‘s Best Visual Artist award. Once a month Ted takes over the New York’s Society of Illustrators to host their Sketch Night. He arranged recent the Gonzo Sketch night that celebrated the current Ralph Steadman exhibition. Steadman invented the visuals for Hunter S. Thompson’s stories in Rolling Stone that define Gonzo Journalism.

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Ted recreated the Gonzo experience for 20 Kutztown illustration students. He brought the perfect Gonzo model, Ariel Krupnik. Ariel wore a coonskin cap, a feather vest, and what appeared to be an American flag kilt. A dead frog hung from his neck. Ariel leapt onto the conference table in the Society’s library and struck a pose. Ted’s bluetooth speakers blasted Elvis Presley’s  Viva Las Vegas!

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My 3-minute study.

Elvis screamed “Bright light city gonna’ set my soul on fire…” and Ted screamed over Elvis, “One more minute! New pose! Switch hands!” It was magic.

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Ted Michalowski sketch of Ariel Krupnik

I first met my friend Ted at the Society of Illustrators. We sat at the same table at an ‘Educators who Illustrate’ conference. There was some gloomy chatter at the table about the state of education and illustration.  A fellow prof was moaning how teaching ruined his illustration career. It happens. Not every career choice is win-win. Ted and I make a conscious effort to keep our conversations posi, shorthand for positive. Whenever anyone, myself included, complains about a lackluster student, we refuse to let the conversation end until we consider an amazing student.

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Sketch by Jess Paley

One of my amazing students said Ted’s Gonzo drawing lesson was the highlight of her illustration life.

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At one point Ted instructed the students to draw with their opposite hands. Then he had students pair up and two people drew on a single page with their opposite hands. I asked Ted where he had learned this mind-boggling technique. He told me it was brand new. He invented it that very moment with the Kutztown students. GONZO!

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Kutztown Students in NYC photo by Kathy Sue Traylor

You too can draw alongside Ted at the Society of Illustrators. ($20 entry or $15 for students and seniors.) There is a rotating roster of great artists hosting the weekly Tuesday night event. There is often live music and  always live models. Ted is there once a month. Check the Society of Illustrator’s sketch night schedule. Stay Posi.

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Gonzo Sketch by Meredith Shriner

Some photos courtesy Ted Michalowski, Thanks. Thanks also to the wonderful staff at the Society of Illustrators, and to Prof. Ann Lemon for organizing the field trip.

Viva Frank Viva!

 

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From Trip to the Bottom of the World © Frank Viva.

I love Frank Viva’s “Trip to the Bottom of the World with Little Mouse.”  It is drawn digitally in Adobe Illustrator, yet it has a retro feel. I got to meet the Canadian author/illustrator at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Boston.

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2- page spread from Sea Change ©Frank Viva

He flew down from Toronto where he heads an award-winning graphic design agency, Viva & Co. I was blown away by his new book Sea Change. The book is getting sensational reviews for both its story and graphic design. Sea Change is a Toon Graphic title. That means it is geared toward middle-grade readers. The literary quality and the visual design is so fine that older readers will appreciate its genius.

The pages of Sea Change are filled with playful typography, -the sort we read about in Phil Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. I showed my copy to Prof. Karen Kresge, who teaches advanced typography at Kutztown. She was so impressed she went directly to her computer to preorder a copy.

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Experimental type by Lewis Carroll and Stéphane Mallarmé from “Meggs”

School Library Journal says “Viva’s bold, simple illustrations are whimsical and bring to life the story’s unique characters. The unconventional format of this funny, poignant coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of comics and graphic novels.”

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detail from Sea Change ©Frank Viva

Graphic designer Chip Kidd is a fan: “In ‘Sea Change’ Frank Viva ingeniously weaves words and pictures to evoke that heartbreaking, strange, wonderful moment—when the very worst experience of your life somehow becomes the very best.” 

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It would be a crying shame if the design was extraordinary and the story fell flat. That is not the case here. The story is quite moving, written with an understated grace. The narrative has a great sense of place, namely, a remote fishing village in Nova Scotia. The author’s voice reminded me of Jack Gantos’s popular Joey Pigsa novels, though Viva told me he was not familiar with those books.

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details from Sea Change © Frank Viva

None of the great reviews I’ve seen touched on the chilling anti-Italian bias our young hero  endures. The book is not a memoir, but I asked Frank Viva if he had experienced bigotry as an Italian kid in Canada. “Oh Yes” he said, “I grew up in a very Anglo neighborhood. It wasn’t hurtful, but it was memorable, and it was typical.”

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The drawing style in Sea Change recalls Ben Shahn’s best graphic works. Viva explains that he sketches freely in pencil, then digitally colors the work in Photoshop.

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    A New Yorker cover by Frank Viva

Besides his children’s books Frank Viva is known for his elegant design work for fortune 500 companies and many New Yorker covers. He has come a long way. He told me about his college years delivering seltzer bottles to fifth floor walk-ups in Manhattan. Oddly enough, Ontario College of Art and Design allowed him to pursue his art studies in New York City.

Young Frank once thought he was headed for a career in fine art, but found work as a junior art director when he returned to Toronto. In the 70’s, he was a contributing cartoonist to the short-lived Toronto-based underground comic, “Berford Seaman’s Fabby Thighs and Butter.” I found a cover of the comic online. It bills itself as “a Canadian Magazine Everyone Can Read and Not Understand.

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Sea Change is an important work. It delivers a sea change from the typical design of ‘chapter books’ for young readers. I found myself totally immersed in the story, and I expect younger readers will, too.

Full disclosure: I got a free advance reader’s copy of Sea Change. Not only that, Frank Viva bought me a beer on a barge in Boston Harbor. Really! However, that one strong pint at the Barking Crab did not affect this review.

Heads Up: Colored Pencil Project

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.

Danny Gregory Sketches From Life

Peonies, all images in post © Danny Gregory, from his Flicker page.
Peonies, all images in this post © Danny Gregory, from his Flicker page.

“Danny Gregory and his wife, Patti, hadn’t been married long. Their baby, Jack, was ten months old; life was pretty swell. And then Patti fell under a subway train and was paralyzed from the waist down.

In a world where nothing seemed to have much meaning, Danny decided to teach himself to draw, and what he learned stunned him. Suddenly things had color again, and value. The result is Everyday Matters, his journal of discovery, recovery, and daily life in New York City. It is as funny, insightful, and surprising as life itself.”  – note from Hyperion, the publisher of Everyday Matters.

Hounds © Danny Gregory.
Hounds © Danny Gregory.

Danny Gregory is coming to Kutztown University on Thurs, Dec. 4, thanks to Prof. Ann Lemon. Danny is an artist, illustrator, teacher, filmmaker and writer. I see from my Amazon history that I first bought his Everyday Matters when it came out in 2007. Like so many others, I was touched by the story of how he sat at his wife’s side during her hospital stay, and how the act of drawing saved his life. We use two of his books, The Creative License and The Illustrated Life as texts in classes at Kutztown.

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Detail from Amsterdam Sketchbook ©Danny Gregory
Detail from Amsterdam Sketchbook ©Danny Gregory

I asked Ann Lemon three questions about Danny Gregory. I asked when she first met him and what was her favorite drawing? and what’s Danny really like? Below are her answers:

Ann Lemon:  “So, I honestly can’t remember how long ago I met Danny. I think it was back in the 90s through his art director partner, who went to school with me. But I got to know him when we both worked at mcgarrybowen. I maybe even was more friends with his wife Patti – but then everybody always was.

Sketchbook © Danny Gregory
Sketchbook © Danny Gregory

Then, kind of a weird surprise, after Patti died (major tragic accident) he began dating my good friend, J.J. Wilmoth, who had also worked at mcgarry. They moved out to L.A. together for a while when she took a job out there last year, but they both missed New York too much and returned a few months ago.”

Bad to the Bone by Danny Gregory
Bad to the Bone by Danny Gregory

“Not sure what drawing would be my favorite. Maybe the cover of Bad to the Bone cause I have a major crush on his dog, Tim. I hope Tim comes to the talk. Actually, as long as Tim comes, I don’t even care if Danny comes.

Self-portrait © Danny Gregory.
Self-portrait © Danny Gregory.

His work personality is absolutely the opposite of his book personality – at work he comes across as kind of tough, silent. Also, he is a writer by trade, not an art director, so a lot of people at work had no idea he had this other life as an artist. He’s really funny, but always serious, too. You’ll see.”

O.K. You’ll see, too. Come see Danny Gregory at Kutztown University, Thurs. Dec. 4 at 6pm, Academic Forum 101. Free and Open to the Public. Bring your sketchbook, Danny will not mind if you draw while he talks. Sponsored by The Communication Design Dept., KUSSI, and KU’s AIGA student group.

My Mexican Sketchbooks

America, mural detail, Chapel Atotonilco, Mex.
America, mural detail, Chapel Atotonilco, Mex.

In a few days I find out if I have enough students to run a sketchbook class in Oaxaca, Mexico. Info on the class can be found here. I’ve been looking through my Mexico sketchbooks. These pages remind me of the wonderful days I have spent in Mexico over the years.

Flower vendor, Guanajuato.
Flower vendor, Guanajuato.

Sometimes my drawings are quick pen sketches. Sometimes I take time to add watercolor washes. Often they are drawn to remind myself about a particular place, like the restaurant Itanoni in Oaxaca. My notes remind me of Itanoni’s fresh organic corn tortillas. Itanoni also serves a wonderful hot chocolate drink, called champurrado, a type of atole made of maize flavored with cane sugar and cinnamon.

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tule copySometimes I draw tourist attractions, like the giant Tule tree outside of central Oaxaca. I’ve seen people jump out of a taxi, snap a photo of the Tule tree and be gone in 60 seconds. Sketching forces me to catch my breath, to savor those few minutes I spent under the shadow of this ancient life form. Some call it the world’s largest tree. The Zapotecs believe it was planted by Ehecatl, the wind god,1400 years ago. With a circumference of 137 feet, it is wider than the giant sequoia of California.

The Weaving Teacher, Oaxaca.
The Weaving Teacher, Oaxaca.

zocaloOnce when I was drawing in the zocalo, Oaxaca’s central square, an old campesino asked me if I could draw his picture. I told him I would be glad to do so. He folded his arms across his chest and stared hard at me.

campesinoA crowd gathered. Some thought I was drawing him all wrong, some thought I was doing it right. In the end, I showed it to the man and he just laughed and walked away happy. The crowd turned their attention to the marimba players and the balloon vendors. I kept drawing and I felt connected to the throng, like I was a part of the wonderful human opera of Oaxaca. I have a new sketchbook and I look forward to visiting Mexico again.

Citizen 13660: It happened in the U.S.A

 

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I picked up a sad old book for 50¢ at the Kutztown Library sale. The cover reminded me of Jean Charlot’s art. The pages were yellowed, torn in places, many illustrations were defaced with crude blue pencil marks. Even in this sorry state I found the book quite moving. Citizen 13660 is a graphic documentary by an American woman put in a concentration camp near San Francisco. Citizen 13660 was first published in 1946, before the terms graphic novel or graphic memoir existed.

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Miné Okubo was born in Riverside, CA to Japanese parents. A top art student at U.C. Berkeley, she won a prestigious fellowship to study in Europe.  She studied with Leger in Paris, but 1939 was not a good time to live in Europe. When the Nazis took Paris she managed to get home to Berkeley, California with only the clothes on her back.

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Okubo got some interesting art jobs for the Roosevelt’s WPA.  She worked with Diego Rivera for a time when he was doing his San Francisco murals. She got her own commission create a mural for a Soldier and Sailor’s Hall in Oakland. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She had to carry special authorization papers to allow her to travel more than 5 miles from her home in Berkeley to Oakland.

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Things quickly got worse for the Japanese-Americans. They were rounded up and put in internment camps. Miné and her family and 8,000 others were taken to Tanforan, a camp made from a run-down horse track in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco.

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Her text is remarkable for its simplicity. She notes gambling was forbidden, yet they were living in stalls at a race track. She avoids pointing out the irony, letting the reader connect the dots.

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The “Japanese American Segregation Centers” were the result of racism. Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned, the majority were U.S citizens. The U.S. was waging war with Germany and Italy, too. German-Americans and Italian-Americans may have suffered wartime discrimination, but they were white Europeans, and so never herded into interment camps like the Japanese.

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Her sketches document the daily indignities of six months at Tanforan. Then she and her brother were relocated inland to Topaz, a Japanese Relocation Center in Utah. Topaz was even less pleasant than Tanforan. After two years of confinement she was eventually released. She remained an artist until her death in 2001 in Greenwich Village, NYC.

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Miné Okubo wrote  I am often asked, why am I not bitter and could this happen again? I am a realist with a creative mind, interested in people, so my thoughts are constructive. I am not bitter. I hope that things can be learned from this tragic episode, for I believe it could happen again.‎”

The pages of my first edition of Citizen 13660, (Columbia University Press, 1946) are falling apart as I turn them. I may be the last person to read this particular volume. Fortunately, the book has been reissued in paperback by the University of Washington Press. And nearly 200 of Okubo’s internment camp sketches can be found here on the web site of the Japanese American National Museum. Miné Okubo illustrated a life worth remembering.

 

WATERCOLOR STORYTELLER Felix Scheinberger

Felix Scheinberger's Urban Waterclor Sketching
Felix Scheinberger’s Urban Watercolor Sketching

Urban Watercolor Sketching: A Guide to Drawing, Painting, and Storytelling in Color by German illustrator Felix Scheinberger.  What a wordy title! Maybe it’s all one word in the original German? – Something like, um,  –“AguaZityKunstenKolor.” *

Detail from a two-page spread about blue. All art © Felix Scheinberger
Detail from a two-page spread about blue. All art © Felix Scheinberger

I found this book quite wonderful, though it might not be ideal for an absolute beginner. Scheinberger does provide how-to lessons on stretching paper, selecting colors, and brushes. The best pages, though, are overflowing with his illustrated musings on the expressive potential of the medium. Watercolor is unfortunately often associated with hobbyists. This book will be a kick in seat of the pants for artists wanting to attempt something bolder, more inventive.

Ivy © Felix Scheinberger
Ivy © Felix Scheinberger

According to the vita on his website Felix was a drummer for various punk bands before studying illustration in Hamburg. That makes total sense, his best drawings have a punkish intensity.

A bold portrait in wash that lets the paper provide the white.
A bold wash portrait lets the paper provide the white. © Felix Scheinberger

He has a section called ‘Pimping Watercolors’ in which he writes, “When you re-wet watercolors, they lose their luminosity. Watercolors are at their most vibrant when they are left to dry without lots of manipulation.” Personally, that’s something I love about working with watercolors, they force you to take a break, now and then, to let the page dry.

Fanciful pageful of bugs displays the brilliance of clean color © F.S.
Fanciful pageful of bugs displays the brilliance of clean color © F.S.

Vodka-colors?

Scheinberger is clearly a globetrotter. He shares one surprising workaround for sketching alpine landscapes in sub-freezing weather. He substitutes vodka or clear schnapps for water when sketching such icy landscapes. He specifically advises against using Jaegermeister and reminds us to wash the brushes thoroughly.

Beer bottles show how a dash of color adds life to a sketch. © F.S.
Beer bottles show how a dash of color adds life to a sketch. © F.S.

Felix Scheinberger has illustrated over 50 children’s books in Europe. Must admit I haven’t seen them, but the work he shares in this volume demonstrates a ferocious talent.

Illustration © Felix Scheinberger
Illustration © Felix Scheinberger

Urban Watercolor Sketching: A Guide to Drawing, Painting, and Storytelling in Color is published 2104 by Watson Guptill, $22.99. Available online and wherever books are sold.

Sketch of House in Transylvania. © F.S.
Sketch of House in Transylvania. © F.S.

* Note: The true title in German is “Wasserfarbe für Gestalter,” or according to Google translate, Watercolor for Designers.