Monday, December 17, 2012

Gloria in excelsis deo

Glory to God in the highest!
(It sounds more glorious in Latin though.)

This image was done in an effort to make the sort of small, iconic drawings that can be found in books of liturgy, drawings that are meant to symbolize, rather than explain, a text.
I love the drawings by Br. Martin Erspamer, OSB, which are often found in Catholic liturgical guides.
I am not sure my particular style is suited to such a use, but how can I know unless I put enough true effort into the making of them?
I've done a few more, but this small one is the only one related to Christmas.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hiking by a stream

In the interests of helping Tofu read English (his Japanese reading is super, but he has much less opportunity to practice English), I have been sending him little stories, with pictures to go with them.  This picture is for a story about a boy named Tofu and his fictional canine friend Jonny, spending a cool Saturday morning floating dandelions down a stream to see which ones go the fastest (incidentally a surprisingly fun and unpredictable game).

When I was younger and thought I was a pretty good artist, I was concerned almost exclusively with how realistic my figures were.  That is still an issue, and I still have a long way to go, especially in drawing from my imagination rather than from life.  Nevertheless, it is not everything in a picture.  I must aim for the whole to be harmonious: form and color and the movement need to come together in a way that could be called beautiful.  Even in a picture such as this one, whose purpose is to accompany a reading lesson, if it is put together carelessly, it would be better to ditch it as not worth showing to anyone, much less sending to someone I love in a faraway place.  Everything I do is worth the time.  It's all for God and from God, who made every insect, every leaf, every molecule beautiful.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

The little Nativity book is available on Amazon

In spite of the sign that says, "Click to look inside," the image to the left is not a link.  Here is the link to the site on Amazon.
Thanks to the hard work and persistence of my friend Dana Chisholm, the words I put together to tell the Christmas story, along with the pictures I painted, are all  gathered together into a book.  It is amazing and wonderful, and I am looking forward to holding the book in my hands.

I have much more to learn about both writing and illustrating.  Having something actually in print makes me eager to learn all I can, and do more. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

St. Andrew's Abbey

Seth's grave (the one on the right)
Benedictine monks order their lives around prayer and work, in an undulating rhythm throughout the day.    The times of prayer are the main event, and work is inserted between them, in the hope that all work becomes infused with prayer, and becomes part of it.  St. Andrew's Abbey is a Benedictine monastery.

I spent four lovely days there, praying with the monks, and doing my work, which in this case was landscape painting.  It was a landscape painting retreat.  This is a genre that I have very little experience with, and no great love for, but I believe that an illustrator needs to be able to put landscapes into illustrations from time to time, and not be afraid of them.  I signed up for this retreat for several reasons: because I love the abbey, to visit Seth's grave, and in order to spend time painting landscape, the desert with its rocks, hills, and grey-green, often prickly foliage.  

This little painting is 8" x 8".  I sat there at the same time on each of two mornings, for an hour & a half or so each time.  Not long, but even so, the shadow from the cross moved quite a lot while I was there.  Plein air painting is tricky.

The curmudgeonly and usually right on target Stapleton Kearns said once (maybe more than once) that landscapes ought to have some mystery in them.  Maybe there's a little mystery here, but in any case I heartily enjoyed painting it.  The rocks and the foreground in particular made me happy; and being near Seth's gravesite always makes me remember the Life that he put into his life, the mindfulness with which he approached every moment of the day.  It's all actually very Benedictine, though at the time neither of us knew it.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

a modern Nativity

 Bob and I have been reading about life in the slums of Calcutta c. 1970, in a beautiful book called CITY OF JOY by Dominique Lapierre.  There was a movie some years back, taken from a section of the book (a movie I never saw, with Patrick Swayze), which covered only a small portion of this gripping nonfiction story.

As I read the book, I realized that Jesus came to be among the poor, not the comfortable.  When he was born, Bethlehem was full of travelers, and Mary and Joseph were just two more strangers in a crowded town.  The place they were offered for the birth of the child was only available because nobody else wanted it.  They would have empathized with migrant workers, with slum dwellers, with all the unwelcome and uncared-about of the world.

So when I was thinking about Christmas images, I looked for pictures of migrant workers, of poor people in various parts of the world for my references.  Mary and Joseph have a spot in a run down and junk-strewn part of town, but they are glad to have someplace, and in God's love, it is turned into a place of light.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Abraham greets his heavenly visitors

Sometimes I draw the same story over and over.  This is the fourth version of this one, from Genesis chapter 18. 

Three men come to visit Abraham, who is a semi-nomadic shepherd, living with his wife and his servants in tents. The travelers who come his way are few, and those who arrive are treated with the respect and hospitality we might assume would be accorded kings.  Like the bedouins of the Arabian peninsula, for Abraham the law of hospitality is absolute.  When these men come, he bows before them, asks them to stay to refresh themselves, and has a feast prepared for them. 
It is not clear whether or not he recognizes at first that they are heavenly visitors.  Perhaps this is the welcome he gives to all visitors.  But indeed soon he finds that it is God himself along with two angels he has been entertaining, and they have great news for Abraham and his wife Sarah: next year Sarah will have a son.  Abraham and Sarah have been waiting 25 years for this son, since the first time God gave the promise to Abraham, and now it is finally the right time. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Postcard from under the sea

Spanish Shawl
The sea is full of mysteries.  I walk on the beach almost every morning, when the sky is grey, and what we see of the sea is grey as well.  Now, during the summer, the shorebirds that inhabit the shoreline have gone somewhere else, and only seagulls and pelicans are consistently around.

But underneath the surface are wonders that are utterly hidden from us.  Occasionally you can see the dorsal fins of dolphins just beyond the waves, as they surface and dive.  But even that is mysterious.
The people who know what is there are the divers who have discovered a way to stay underneath, explore, and even photograph the suboceanic topography and life. 

Some years ago I discovered the glorious underwater photographs of Kawika Chetron .  This is a guy who loved the world of cold water.  He was happiest when he was under the sea, exploring, photographing, finding Life among the creatures that live there, especially along the coast of California.  Recently I found that Kawika, like Seth, had died as he was stretching the boundaries of what he could do, in his continuing effort to be truly alive.  He was a little younger than Seth, and died about a year later, in March of 2007.

This postcard of a little man riding the gorgeously colorful Spanish Shawl nudibranch was inspired by Kawika's photographs and Seth's delight in all things.     

Friday, April 13, 2012

Moses and the Burning Bush

I suppose there are a lot of ways of depicting fire in a line drawing.  I looked at many photographs of fire, and of course not only is it evanescent, but it is ever-changing, and has a different appearance depending on the wind, on what is burning, and on circumstances that it would take someone more knowledgeable in physics than I to explain.  My aim was for the fire to be beautiful and flowing.  I looked for some inspiration to Aubrey Beardsley's gorgeous forms in black and white, those Art Nouveau shapes wherein Reality takes a back seat to pure line, but in the end Mood predominates.  I didn't want to make a moody image, but I did want the fire to have that elegance of line that is so much a part of Art Nouveau. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Working things out

I have a series of stories to illustrate about a group of kids who live in Texas in the 1950's.  Nice, kind of slow moving stories, with conflicts, but not the kind of dire conflicts kids today face.  Their conflicts are more about simple getting along with one another.  One of these stories concerns the summer pleasures of floating down a stream on inner tubes.  After deciding on the general look of the picture, I started drawing it.
Here is the drawing:
I liked it pretty well, except that each of the people in it was as though they were in their own box--no overlapping, except for the two at the right, and the two of them were sort of in their own box.  Besides, the boy at the front, falling off his tube, looks not quite right.  And then, the deciding factor was that I reread the story and found that according to the words they are all supposed to be wearing shoes. 
It is always good training to be willing to do the drawing over and over again; it's something I learned from Seth.  Don't let it go out unless it is as good as you can do

So here is the second one:

Shoes on, some overlap, much better. 
Although the boy on the left, with the tube under his arm, has a left arm that is far too long...
And the boy splashing in the water still looks a bit disjointed.

Then I spoke with the author, who said that he had decided to give each of the drawings a full page in the book.  That means a vertical, rather than a horizontal layout. 
OK, no problem.  I'll draw it again. 

This time, for the vertical layout, I thought I'd better do a little more research on rivers, how they look, how water looks when it is flowing.  Doing it all from the imagination is fine, but it may be better to get some real feel for the landscape. 
Here is the third drawing:
OK.  I like the scenery much better.  It looks like a real place.  The little patch of reeds and grasses in the front right corner brings the viewer into the setting some more, all the kids have arms and legs in proportion. 
But there is a different problem: it's dull.  Nothing is happening.  Something is GOING to happen, as the boy with his back toward us is just about to hit the rapids, but everyone else is just floating.  Besides all the kids except one are in a vertical line.  Accuracy in drawing can NOT take the place of interest--either interesting composition, or interesting emotional action.  Accuracy is good, but for an illustration it has to take a back seat to emotion and vibrant composition.
Then I reread the story one more time, and found that there was some action in it that I had ignored.  In the girl in the plaid shirt teases the boy ahead of her by splashing him as they float along.

So below is what I think is the final:
It has action, accuracy, rhythm, and, I hope, interest.  I may find something else it needs, and if so, I'll change it again.  Or if anyone who sees this is bothered by something, I would be glad to hear about it.  I learn something every try. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Moses and Pharoah's daughter

Continuing to illustrate the handouts for my sixth grade Sunday school classes.  The subject matter is always available, the kids like the drawings, and I have an ongoing, low-pressure commission.  If I decide later that my skills have increased so that I can depict the story better, I'll redo it for next year.     

Saturday, February 11, 2012

You just gotta fight

I found this quotation today on Muddy Colors, a blog that is a collaboration among several top-level illustrators.  It gives me hope and a kick in the pants.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Seth's gravesite

This is the grave of my son Seth.
It is at the Benedictine monastery, St. Andrew's Abbey, on the top of a hill, in the high desert where the air is clear and dry, and the colors are soft ochre, grey, yellow green with highlights of sienna.  (My scan made the green bushes way too green, but I couldn't fix it without ruining something else.)
The only bright colors were the rocks that we painted that are sitting on the arms and top of the cross.
I forgot to take a camera, but did have my little watercolor moleskine notebook and tiny paintbox, so I could get the desert colors plus the bright colored rocks on the cross. 

Scenery is always hard; I usually try to put in too much detail.  This site however, is pretty simple.  Rocks, joshua trees, dry weather plants, and those concrete crosses. 

While I was going through some documents in my files today, I came across this, in a letter from Seth to someone he mentored (who very generously shared his letters with me).  Among other pieces of advice, Seth said this:
"Make every single panel better than the last. You must raise the bar for yourself with each and every line that you draw.  In this way you will progress very quickly."
Well, that gives me a clear way to look at my work.  What am I learning?  What have I done here that I haven't done before?  Let's make this painting better than the last one. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jacob the Trickster meets his match in Uncle Laban

Genesis 25 begins the story of Jacob and his twin brother Esau.  Though they are twins, Esau is older, and thus stands to inherit everything from his father Isaac, including the covenant with God.  Jacob tricks his father into giving him the inheritance instead and then runs for his life to his mother's brother Laban, a man whose ability and willingness to deceive are even greater than his own.  It's a colorful and fascinating story about a man who would do ANYTHING to be blessed.  He is wrong-headed, and God teaches him a hard lesson, but his goals are in the right place. 
This is the first drawing that I have for this story for my class.  Laban's sons are behind him, and his daughters are under Jacob's outstretched arm.