Thursday, July 30, 2009

crossroads at midnight

Illustrations by Gennady Spirin.

I wince a little when I hear the word “talent”.

To me the word implies that ability is merely a gift. Magic.

For someone to say “She’s got talent” does nothing to suggest the years of hard work, planning and intelligence that go into producing great art.

If asked how long it took him to paint a watercolor, my instructor, Irving Shapiro would say: “30 years”, or just about as many years as he’d been painting altogether.

A friend has gotten up at 5 in the morning for decades to get a few hours of painting time in before going to his “real” job.

While I was at art school, I invariably painted until midnight or one in the morning, several times falling asleep at my drawing board -- once with my eyes wide open.

There is a legend around blues legend Robert Johnson; that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his red-hot guitar ability. A more romantic explanation to savor than sweat and determination.

If the illustrator Gennady Spirin has sold his soul, it was to a very benevolent spirit, for that man’s got “Talent”!

I’ve never seen such an ability with watercolor, even surpassing the great Sir William Russell Flint.

To tear our eyes from the lovely handling is not easy, but once we do what further marvels we see: rich moods, superb compositions, flawless drawing, color to break your heart.

Natural ability factors in, sure, but I’d say most of what we see in Spirin’s work is the result of a purposeful, intelligent, long laboring soul rather than mere magic.

Friday, July 24, 2009

first timer

A package arrived the other day, inside were the f&g's for 'The Wonder Book', by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by yours truly.

This career I've chosen is one step closer to feeling real.

(For the perplexed: f&g's stand for folded and gathered, an unbound proof of a book)

Friday, July 17, 2009

just for Adam

inking of you

Illustrations from ‘The Story of Ferdinand’, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson.

There are some overused words out there. ‘Hero’ and ‘perfect’ being a couple I can think of right off. (Puhl-eeze! Someone who chucks a ball around is NOT a hero.)

But I’m gonna commit my own misdemeanor: There ARE at least two perfect things out there.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a perfectly written book.

‘The Story of Ferdinand’ is a perfectly illustrated book.

Even as a runny-nosed kid, I knew it was perfect. I used to spend hours gazing at those rich blacks, the lovely hatchings, marveling at Lawson’s absolute skill in drawing. Every inch of ink semed perfect to me.

That line from the Beatles song: “She’s the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry,” was exactly how I felt about those drawings.

Perfect. Except for the cover, the cover design sucks.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Zwerger two

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger from ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Illustration is manipulation, (evil bwa-ha-ha laugh here). The artist seeks to control what the viewer sees and what they sense, what is important and what is background. What and how they feel. The tools the artist has for this are numerous.

One of the greatest challenges an illustrator has is taking an inherently busy subject and controlling the chaos so that the piece powerfully communicates the essence of the story to the viewer.

A field of poppies could result in a nearly unreadable cacophony as an illustration. A riot of pointless color at the very least, overwhelming the eye.

Besides, red poppies are cheerful, this scene needs to be frightening. So what’s an illustrator to do?

Selections must be made! Choices! Manipulation! Power wielded!! (Another evil laugh here.) An illustrator must see themselves as Master of the content, not a slave of it.

Lizbeth Zwerger has done that here with extraordinary skill.

An eerie greyish green background suggests an endless field without the literal busyness that would overwhelm the viewers eyes, while simultaneously being complimentary to and enhancing the purer red of the poppies. She suggests the field without being controlled by it.

The vertical stalks and eliminating the plant’s leaves simplify things, resulting in an appealing graphic design while the starkness somehow infers a tension, a stillness, a moment of frozen time.

That the poppies are oversized emphasizes the lost, helpless feeling of the characters, they are small, alone, isolated.

Zwerger here is a storyteller, not just a decorator of a page in a book.

This is illustration at it’s best.