Friday, November 23, 2007

Recent Work: How-to Demo for Upcoming Book

I created the above left image over the last few weeks as a “how-to” demo for Lisa Cyr’s upcoming book, Working On The Cutting-edge: Alternative Approaches in Art and Illustration, to be published by North Light Books. Although the final image is composited and enhanced in Photoshop, the individual elements are created by hand. Some of the pieces were created and/or photographed for this specific piece, such as the central frame and the main background. As part of my usual practice, though, many of the elements are culled from my continuously expanding and evolving library of backgrounds, scraps, and objects. Above right are some of the supporting images for the demonstration, including a photo of me painting the background, the before and after painted balsa wood frame, and scanned sections of some of my older paintings and drawings.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Recent Work: “Wounded Warriors” Illustration

For soldiers fortunate enough to survive severe head injuries in combat, attempting to navigate the disjointed military healthcare system back home can be another daunting challenge. In this illustration for designer Jill Akers at Military Officer Magazine, I tried to suggest the confusing bureacracy by looking to M.C. Escher for inspiration. I had done a couple of other sketches first, and this very rough pencil was almost an afterthought. I was slightly hesitant to present it, because I knew it would be by far the most labor intensive choice (had to build the little stairs, etc.), but I also felt drawn to the challenge. I like the way it turned out, though my wife hates it when I use the little model railroad people. Any opinions?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

From Charles Shulz to Chuck Close

Breaking down a large task into smaller, manageable pieces is a well known productivity tool. Last week, NPR listeners were treated to two stellar examples in the practice of this principle by Peanuts creator, Charles Shulz, and the large scale portrait painter, Chuck Close.

On The Diane Rehm Show, Shulz’ biographer David Michaelis spoke of the acclaimed cartoonist's dogged (no pun intended) work ethic. Inspired by his barber father, who built his business “one haircut at a time”, Shulz realized his lifelong goal of becoming a cartoonist “one strip-a-day”, and built his syndicated empire “one newspaper at a time”.

In the rebroadcast of a 1998 interview with Chuck Close by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, the internationally renowned artist acknowledged how his use of a grid helps him sustain his focus while working on very large paintings, each of which takes many months to complete. By completing one small square of the grid each day, Close is able to take pleasure in a sense of accomplishment analagous to creating a single painting every day.

To me, this also underscores the importance of habits. Most often, our most satisfying achievements are simply the sum of many, many small choices.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Glass Flowers at HMNH

When a friend first told me I absolutely had to see the Glass Flower Collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, I thought of tacky glass trinkets one might see at a gift shop. As anyone who has experienced them knows, I could not have been more wrong. Created as botanical teaching models from 1897–1936 by the Bohemian father-son team of Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, the flowers are one of the most stunning achievements I have ever seen. I felt humbled trying to get my arms around the level of sensitivity, patience, and invention that went into the making of each object. And there are over 3000 of them! Don't judge by these small photos here, or any photos for that matter. You have to see them to believe them. As scientific models, they are touted as jaw-droppingly accurate. As art, they are achingly evocative meditations on the imperfect, fragile beauty of life.