ALPHA: Abidjan to Paris, -a graphic novel

The landscape of graphic novels is as vast as the Sahara. ALPHA follows an African refugee on a tortuous journey across that very desert. The story is by Bessora, a French author of African and European ancestry. French illustrator Barroux’s  lush ink wash drawings bring an immediacy to the journey.

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Alpha, a carpenter, is compelled to migrate North. He leaves his home in Cote D’Ivoire. There is nothing there for him. His wife and child have already gone ahead. He holds out hope that he may find them en route or in Paris.

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I read Alpha in an hour. The images flew by, – close-ups, followed by stark landscapes. I’ve traveled a bit with a sketchbook in Africa. The mark making in this book sometimes feels raw, but the details ring true, as if we are looking over Alpha’s shoulder into his personal sketchbook.

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Simple declarative sentences glide like subtitles below the art. The handwritten text takes a bit longer to read than a text font might, but it fits Alpha’s determined voice. He muses, “I never imagined Africa could be so vast. People always say ‘Africa’ as if it is a tiny country. They’ve got no idea.”walk.jpg

The journey of this publication is nearly as remarkable as the journey in the book. Alpha was first published in French by Gallimard, Paris, 2014. It won recognition from Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. In 2016 it was translated into English by Sarah Ardizonne, published by The Bucket List, Edinburgh, Scotland. Bellevue Literary Press, NYC, has now published the U.S edition with help from NEH and the NY State Council on the Arts. Scan7.jpeg

The French Comics Association gave me a review copy of Alpha at the American Library Association Convention in New Orleans. The French Comics Association is a cultural enterprise supported by the French Embassy and a consortium of French and Belgian publishers. Someone once told me the organization was created in response to the growing influence of manga comics in the U.S. and Europe. That is surely an oversimplification of their mission, but they are doing important work.

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The character Alpha, may be fictional, or perhaps a composite of many individuals. Nevertheless, his tale of smugglers, fake passports, wasted bribes, and desperate migration is happening today. Alpha is a story worth sharing. I will gift my review copy to Dr. Steve Schnell, a Kutztown University geography prof who is writing a college course, “Exploring Place through Comics and Graphic Novels.”  – Imagine that! And I will ask my university’s Rohrbach Library to order a  copy. Great graphic novels, like great novels, can spread the gift of empathy.

 

Illustration Summer.

Illustration student? Want to advance you career?  If I was a young illustration student in college or high school here’s what I’d  do this summer. Make business cards. This cost very little. Identify yourself as an illustrator or illustrator/designer. Don’t think of yourself as a student of illustration, but as a beginning illustrator.

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Postcards don’t cost much more than business cards, and they have room for more art. I made the postcard above to promote my new TOON book, Snails Are Just My Speed!.

Give Yourself a Promotion:  Get a web page together. Even a single scrolling page. The page below is by Aubry Joi Cohen. I featured her work here. Aubry is a 2014 KU CD grad and a full-time illustrator designer at Artskills. She has over 1,000 followers. The French publisher Auzou saw her Behance page and contacted her to create a children’s book, Seek and Find Animals Around the World.

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Make a zine. A zine is a self-published limited edition book. There are websites with tutorials. Better yet, get a copy of the inspiring book Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?

A zine shows your design, illustration and storytelling skills. Put your contact info on the zine and donate a copy to anyplace that collects them, like Kutztown’s Rohrbach Library’s zine collection. That’s a line on you resume. Send your zine to Quimby’s Books in Chicago. They will sell it and may review it, too. Here is Quimby’s consignment form. Folks will be able to buy your zine online.

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Part of the KU Zine Collection in Rohrbach Library

As my zinester son, Daniel McCloskey always says, ” Zines are a great calling card. Zines have a life of their own.”  Often the original reader will think of a friend who likes a particular sort of zine and pass it on. And so on. Speaking of Daniel, he just drew a web-comic on living in a van for the website, The Nib. This is a paid gig.

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Submit to digital markets. Image above is the first panel of Dan’s #VanLife comic. you can read the rest at The Nib. That’s another thing you should do. Visit online magazines, Vice, Slate, and check their submissions pages. The Nib publishes political satire, journalism and nonfiction comics. Their submission info page is here. Subscribe to the Nib and you’ll get the idea of what they are looking for.

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Screenshot of Poets &Writers database.

Submit to nontraditional print markets.  Poets and Writers searchable Small Press database is a great resource. There is a filter for presses that consider graphics or illustrated work. I just tried that filter and came up with dozens of publishers. Some pay cash, some pay only in copies. If you want to see these literary magazines you should visit a good university library, but you can get a sense of what they like from their web pages.

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Landing page for CaFÉ , See below.

Exhibit your artwork. Look for local “Call for Entries” notices on bulletin boards at your locals art spaces A few near Kutztown are: Goggleworks, Reading, The Cigar Factory, Allentown,The Banana Factory, Bethlehem. No matter where you are, there are likely artspaces  near you. Do a web search with the term “Call for Entries” Beware of scams if you come across competitions. I seldom spend more that $20 on an entry fee, but some legit exhibitions and contests do charge hefty entry fees. I like a site called CaFÉ,  https://www.callforentry.org. You need to register, but you will find contests, exhibition opportunities, fellowships, artist’s residencies and grants.

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Goggle Works. Photo © by John Rosewood via Wikimedia Commons.

Last thought. Maybe you have to have work as a server, or in retail, this summer. Fine.  Perfect your people skills on the job. Look people in the eye. Listen and talk to people, not just your phone friends. In illustration class critiques I watch students avoiding eye-contact. Work on your people skills, learn to listen and talk to the people in your physical presence. These are skills an illustrator needs. As the guru said, BE HERE NOW!

Great Illustrators coming to Kutztown

Exceptional illustrators are coming to the Kutztown University campus this week. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference. I’ve been on the conference committee from the beginning and met some stellar writers and illustrators. This year’s line-up is amazing.

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Peter Sís came to the U.S. as a political refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia. He has earned a MacArthur genius award and won every major illustration award. His most autobiographical work is The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.

“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.”-Peter Sís.

Raul Colón was born in Puerto Rico and now based in New York City. He has illustrated a number of bilingual English/ Spanish children’s books including “My Name is/ Me Llamo Gabito, A life of/ la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.” He will be visiting design students to share his work, in addition to addressing the literature conference.

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Lee Harper grew up in Pennsylvania and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He now lives in Doylestown. He has illustrated children’s’ books by Walter Dean Myers and Wendi Silvano, as well as illustration for his own writing.

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Cast and cover of Turkey Trouble illustrated by Lee Harper.

Sís, Colón, and Harper will be presenting their work to KU Children’s’ Literature Conference attendees on Saturday, April 21. Colón and Harper and author Sharon Draper will be doing Friday talks for the KU community. Details and times of the Community Day presentations can be found here.

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These artists’ books will be on sale at the KU Bookstore this week. Plus KU alum Jennifer Hansen Rolli will also be here. Her work is featured in an earlier blog post.

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I will also be sharing my latest silly TOON Book, Snails Are Just My Speed! during a breakout session at the conference. Original art from my TOON books is currently on display at the Kutztown Community Library, info here.

Straight Outta’ Kutztown to MoCCA, NYC.

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A nonfiction zine about Armadillos by Amanda Collins

Kutztown University illustration students will have a table at the 2018 MoCCAfest in NYC. We will be among a select group of colleges at MoCCAfest, the indie comic showcase in New York City. Most of the other tables will be small presses, large presses, distributors, and independent comics creators. The fest is held April 7 and 8 this year at Metropolitan West, 639 W 46th St, NYC. MoCCA, by the way, stands for Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art, now part of the Society of Illustrators.

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2-page spread from ” Men+u” © Colt Barron

Special thanks to PSECU, the PA State Employees Credit Union, who gave us a mini-grant to support the table fee. This weekend event is a great opportunity for our students to compare their work with projects from other art programs and meet indy publishers and artists.  MoCCA’s general admission is just $7 a day,  a bargain for an art fest. Look for Kutztown at Table 114 next to TOON BOOKS.

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Art © Jacqueline Foran

We have diverse offerings this year, a small sampling shown here. Amanda Collins made a nonfiction zine about armadillos, Colt Barron’s is about men, Jacqueline Foran added buttons to her Sal Sucks, a tale of an unemployed sucker fish. Chandler Johnson tells the story of a high school romance. Most of these cost between $3 and $6 and profits go direct to the students. Note that “Sal Sucks” includes a free button. IMG_20180402_174057

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© Chandler Johnson

MoCCafest is different from the big ComicCons. Its focus is not on Marvel and DC superheroes, but more on small presses and and fine art comics. Speakers this year include Françoise Mouly, founder of TOON Books and Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. Admission includes lectures, panels and demonstrations.

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Cover to Megan Brady’s Volition

MoCCAfest is a great learning experience for Kutztown’s students. We will update this blog with more student work and photos from the fest this weekend.

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My Native Roots by Ariana Alexandropoulus, a native of Greece.

Q & A with Jennifer Hansen Rolli

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Jennifer Hansen Rolli, author, illustrator, and Kutztown University grad will return to campus for the Kutztown University’s Children’s Literature Conference. The conference, 4/21/18, celebrates its 20th year with keynote speakers: Peter Sís, Raúl Colón, Lee Harper and Sharon Draper. Kutztown University students can attend the conference for $10.

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Claudia and Moth, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017

Jennifer will take part in our “Author Chat” breakout session. What’s that mean? The truth is, at any sort of literature conference it is very hard to chat with the headliners. So, authors and illustrators with Kutztown roots volunteer their time and talents. In recent years, Lisa  Kahn Schnell,  Rachel Yoder, Kathi Ember, and Aubry Joi Cohen shared their recently published children’s books at a chat session.

We’re delighted that Jennifer Hansen Rolli has accepted our invitation for 2018

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New books by Jennifer Hansen Rolli

Jennifer has been painting since the day her father bought her a professional painter’s box at a very young age. She went on to run her design firm in Philadelphia for many years. But, after her 3rd child, she fell in love with the all picture books she was reading and started making up stories and pictures of her own.

School Library Journal gave high praise to her picture book Claudia and Moth: “Rolli’s illustrations are painted in oil on brown paper and the bright, texture-rich, full-page spreads are a delight. Recommended.” -SLJ

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From Claudia and Moth, oil on kraft paper, all art © Jennifer Hansen Rolli.

School Library Journal called her first book, Just One More, published by Penguin Random House in 2014, “A Must Read for Pre-school and kindergarten.” Among other honors it is a selection of  Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Q & A with JHR

Q: Was your name Jennifer Hansen when you went to Kutztown?

JHR: Yes, it was.

Q: What was your major?

A: It was Communication Design.

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‘Milk House Washday’ © JHR, 2016 Communication Arts Illustration Annual

Q: Do recall any professor(s) fondly?

A: That Evangelista was a toughie, but boy, did he squeeze the best out of us! Landis, –he kept the whole show together. I loved Breter.

Q: Out of college you had your own design practice. What sort of clients did you have?

A: Since I was in Philly, it was a lot of local companies like Comcast and Ibanez Guitar. My big winner was Genentech in San Francisco. Microbreweries were popping up everywhere and I had a good footing in that market (as long as I didn’t sample the product too much). Tons of fun.

Q: How did you come to publish your first book, Just One More?
A: I really loved the picture books I was reading to my young children and started writing during my downtime silly things my kids were doing…like asking for “just one more of just about everything.” It was unbelievable, kids are kids in their own bubble. But, it was a great way of learning natural consequences if they go overboard. So when all my kids were school age, I went to that notebook and made a story out of all the “just one mores” I had made a list of.

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Q: Were there books, websites, or other resources that helped you reach that point? For example, did you join the SCBWI , Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ?
A: I had no idea what I was doing, so I did some research via websites about getting published. I had tried selling my story – only once – and that was enough for me. I needed help and decided to get a good agent if I was going to do this. With a little more digging, I emailed my current agent and that was that. He loved my concept but said, “Jenny, this is not a story, it needs a conflict and a resolution…join SCBWI, go to a conference, and learn how to do this.” I did, and one conference was equivalent to a college education in picture book writing. Really.

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Title Page, Claudia & Moth, oil on Kraft paper.

Q: A lot of aspiring children’s book creators expect getting a book published is the goal line. How important is follow-through when the books come out? Website, educator packets, social media, etc?

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Illustration from https://www.jenniferhansenrolli.com


A: You are right, we all think getting published is the “be all end all” but actually, getting published includes the whole process leading up to your book sitting in a bookstore. But that is only the half of it, everything you do to get your book into little hands is just as important.

Q: Did you initiate your great Educator packets, or was this something you publisher did?

A: I met Marci Colleen at an SCBWI conference, she’s a former teacher who creates these magnificent guides. She now has her own middle grade series and picture book…but still creates the guides, thank goodness.

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From the free Claudia & Moth Educator Guide (link below)


Q: I grabbed Life Cycle image above from your Educator Guide. Do you want to say anything about this particular image?

A: The life cycle of both the moth and the butterfly are threaded throughout Claudia & Moth and it’s a great teaching tool for 1st and 2nd graders.

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Book by Erin Danielle Russell art by Jennifer Hansen Rolli

In May How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell with art by Jennifer will be published. A limited number of copies of this new book may be avaialable at the conference. Jennifer will talk about all her books and what it takes to have a successful author visit at a school. The books will be available at the KU bookstore at a discounted price and she will be happy to personalize them. It is still possible to register to attend The 2018 Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference, Info Here.

For lots more info on Jennifer’s work, including a way cool animation based on Claudia & Moth at www.jenniferhansenrolli.com.

 

Brian Martin and Our Cartoon President.

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Last year Brian Martin got an amazing job, but had to keep it secret from even his close friends. Animation projects are kept hush-hush so other studios don’t get wind of a great idea. Now he can share that he’s been working on Steven Colbert’s Our Cartoon President. The half-hour cartoon show premieres Feb. 11 on Showtime. Brian graduated in 2015 from Kutztown University majoring in Communication Design with Ad and Illustration concentrations.

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Brian Martin’s new job site.

Brian signed an NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, so he can’t share photos from inside the studio or images he has drawn for the show. I’ve grabbed art from the official Our Cartoon President trailer, which can be seen at Showtime.

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Screen grab from the You Tube Trailer ©Showtime (link above)

Last year, Brian was a designer for a pharmaceutical e-learning company. It wasn’t his dream job. He promised himself he’d land his first animation gig before he had to renew his apartment lease. He just made it with one month left on the lease.

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Q: How did you land the job with Our Cartoon President?

Brian:  “With animation, past experience isn’t that crucial. It’s your reel that counts, and it always comes down to how well you do on your animation test, where they’ll ask you to animate a scene from the show. I finished the test in one all-nighter, and they emailed me the following week offering me a three-week position that could lead to long term if my work was good. It was Friday, and they wanted me to start Monday, so I packed up my desk immediately, and never went back. It was a giant risk, but every bone in my body told me to do it. Best decision I ever made!”

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A still from Brian Martin’s demo real.

See the demo reel that got Brian’s foot in the door here. 

Q: What was the move to NYC like?

Brian: “The first four weeks, I commuted from north Philly to NYC every day. It was a 5 to 7 hour round trip, – pretty brutal, but I think my commitment to the cause was appreciated! After the first five weeks, we went on a month-long hiatus, so I had plenty of time to prepare for the move. The first season is in production till sometime in March, so I’m staying in an Airbnb in East Harlem. “
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From Brian Martin’s demo reel.
Q: Like you, Floyd Bishop and Tom Warburton graduated from KU and had success in animation. Where did most animators you work with study?
Brian: SVA is the one I hear brought up most often.
Q: What is a typical day like? Do you work on one particular character or facet of the cartoon? Do you use specialized software?
 “I’m not sure how much of our workflow I’m allowed to talk about, but I can say I work entirely in the realm of hand-drawn character animation. I don’t do any of the puppeting or rigging. We’re animating in Adobe Photoshop so our files can be imported into Adobe Character Animator, a brand new software.”
Q: Can you share some of your sketches?
Brian: Sure! Work stuff is a bit too top-secret, but here’s some recent sketchpad doodles!
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From Brian Martin’s sketchbook
Q: What is Steven Colbert like?
Brian: “I’ve only met him a couple times.  First time, I was walking from the bathroom back to my desk. I was alone in the hallway and heard a voice behind me shout, “Hi there!”  I turned around, and he was sticking his head out the elevator door with a big grin on his face, clearly with the intention to startle the hell out of me and leave me star struck. “
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Brian Martin , left, Steven Colbert, center.
“The second time was at the Late Show holiday party.  A coworker and I drunkenly thanked him for our awesome job. He was super cool about it and talked to us for a minute and took selfies with us and a few dozen other people. He just seems like a super nice dude and an average Joe in the best possible way. It’s one of those things that never quite feels real, so it’s hard to truly appreciate.”
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Sketchbook study by Brian Martin

Brian can’t talk plot, but Showtime reveals a bit about the show’s first episode: “The President tries to revive his low approval ratings by delivering the greatest State of the Union speech in history and to strengthen his relationship with First Lady Melania by naming her the national bird.”

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Brian can’t tell us much more about his work. However, Our Cartoon President‘s lead animator Tim Luecke shares much about process in this cool Adobe video. 

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Sketchbook page, Brian Martin.

Our Cartoon President,  Feb.11 on SHO, or on demand beginning Jan. 28. Could it be funnier than a White House Press conference? Let’s see! New subscribers can get a free 7-day trial of the Showtime app. Tell ’em Brian Martin sent you.

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Our Cartoon President. Credit: Showtime

Credits for Our Cartoon President images: Showtime. Sketchbook pages, demo reel, and photo, courtesy of © Brian Martin.

P.S. I contacted Floyd Bishop, now an artist at Microsoft, who taught Brian animation at Kutztown. Floyd says, “Brian pushed himself to tackle tough challenges, and grew his skills faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. Whatever he gets involved with is going to be great!”

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Demons in Red and Blue

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Australian Mugshot from 1920’s © as noted above.

Searching the web I came across this archive of mugshots taken by Australian police in the 1920’s. Love this dude’s rockabilly haircut.. I used his likeness for painting demos in my sophomore illustration class.

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I drew his likeness twice on gessoed masonite. Then I painted monochromatic studies using blue, black, and white and red, black, and white acrylic paint. The golden rule for painting with acrylics or oils is to paint thick over thin. In other words start with a light wash, top it off with thick paint. My students artwork, below, is better than mine. They had three 3- hour classes, for nine hours of studio time for the project.

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Angel © Jake Woods

Here are my Project instructions: Your Angel or Demon should be largely monochromatic, with red or blue the dominant color. Close up, a telling detail, not full figure. Imagine the light is coming from the upper left. Angels or Demons can be either blue or red. No color code, but largely one or the other. Note how Jake used a bit of red to highlight the rosary in the image above.

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Bat Demon © by Hayden Gregory

Grading criteria: Originality, sense of mass, and consistency of light source. No points for originality if you lift a cherub from Rafael or devil from Bosch. Better to find a baby picture or photo of a wicked-looking person for reference. Even better –take your own reference photo of yourself or a  friend.

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Angel © Olivia Durr.

I used to insist students pick the assignment from a hat: angel or demon. Illustration, after all, is often done in response to someone else’s vision. Nowadays, I let the students decide. We always get a good balance of angels and demons.

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Angel @ Morgan Nadin
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Demon © Mikala Campbell

Mikala Campbell’s demon, above, is based on a photo of actress Lauren Bacall.

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Angel’s Feet © Cassie Bowlen

This is a simple enough assignment. I get the masonite from Lowe’s where it cost $10 for a 4ft by 8ft sheet. They provide 2 free cuts, so it fits in my car. I trim the board into 1-foot squares on a table saw. We use acrylic gesso as a primer. The painting teachers here tell students to paint an X on the backside of their board, so it doesn’t warp. That step isn’t really necessary at this small size. The materials we use are pictured below.

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Materials for monochrome illustration project. Photo: Kevin McCloskey

We’ve done this project before, so to see even more angels and demons, lookie here.

Illustrations Get Moving with Gifs

In Illustration 1 class, we added a bit of motion to our art using Photoshop gifs. Shout out to Prof. Dannell MacIlwraith for teaching me how to make a gif loop.

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Gif © Amanda Collins

Amanda Collins, artwork above, sits alongside Mia Clark, artwork below. Both focused on nostrils, oddly enough.

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Gif © Mia Clark
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Gif © Ashley Ferguson

Ashley Ferguson animated one of her 3 icons, or “tricons,” as they are called here. Not sure what sort of lifeform this is, but looks to be dancing on a very magic mushroom.

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gif © Haeley Vernon

Haeley Vernon imagined a green smoke enveloping a purple skull encrusted with crystals, something you don’t see every day. Yow!

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gif © Rachel Lefko

Rachel Lefko began working on an ambitious animation of a cliff diver. I hope she completes it someday. Meanwhile, she delivered this quirky item, The Devil Knitting.

The gif assignment was a first for these juniors and the results were fun. Coming full circle back to nostrils, Todd Weber produced a somewhat snotty image, below.

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“Sneeze” a Gif © Todd Weber

Gif illustrations have definitely gone mainstream. The New York Times digital edition runs gif versions of art that appears static in the print edition of the newspaper. Check out this link for the animated version of the art  below by Peter and Maria Hoey. By the way, Peter Hoey is a successful Kutztown University illustration grad, BFA 1982. So, we expect great things from the current crop of students.

Art for NY Times by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey. Click through to see in gif form. Teachers in TIAA retirement plans, like me, may find the story eye-opening.

 

More Wild Animal Heads

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.

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Art © Anna Makdissi-Elias

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.

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Bad Kid © Kelly Brong

Kelly Brong has a sketchbook full of fantastic sketches on tones paper. She got permission to use grey paper for the above portrait.

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Lion Tamer © Leah Tierney

Leah Tierney impressed me by even attempting to portray the circus crowd.

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Knitting Cat © Madison Woodruff

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.

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Ram man © Morgan Nadin
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Robin Hoot © Melissa Marshall

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.

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At the Crowbar © Shannon Rosser

Speaking of alcohol and moderation, Shannon Roser’s Crowbar is atmospheric, isn’t it?

The Weave. American Illustrator Robert Weaver.

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Wikipedia intro to Robert Weaver

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.

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Robert Weaver art from Dowd MGHL Special Collections at Washington U, St. Louis.

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.

ed5e44f19444964f14fe857985a6d1d1.jpgIt’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.

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Spring Traing by Robert Weaver  photo credit: Dowd MGHL

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.

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Robert Weaver, Life Magazine cover, credit: Google Books.

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.

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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.

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JFK from Esquire magazine. credit: Dowd MGHL

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..

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Robert Weaver magazine illustration credit: Dowd MGHL

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.

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Sports Illustrated art from Dowd MGHL

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.

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SVA subway poster, credit: SVA

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.

 

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art by Robert Weaver from Dowd MGHL

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.”

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Example of Robert Weaver’s visual journalism credit: Dowd MGHL
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Drawing at CBS on recycled calendar, Robert Weaver, credit: Dowd CPSG

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 is a precious gift, the feeling that you don’t belong!

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Robert Weaver art from Dowd MGHL,  D.B.Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis. The Dowd MGHL site has a number of visual essays on the Weave. A version of this essay appeared in the SVA publication, Drawing, 1997.