Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring is on my mind.


Collage and ink on paper.

Women's History Month, Jacqueline 'Jackie' Cochran

Jacqueline 'Jackie' Cochran, Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA)Jacqueline Cochran 1940's -- Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran was a leading aviatrix who promoted an independent Air Force and was the director of women's flying training for the Women's Airforce Service Pilots program during World War II. She held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other male or female pilot in aviation history at the time of her death Aug. 10, 1980. High Resolution Image
Security and Privacy Notice, The Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) Web Site is provided as a public service by the 42nd Communication Squadron.

Information presented on the AFHRA Web Site is considered public information and may be distributed or copied. Use of appropriate byline, photo, image credits is requested.
1940's -- Jackie Cochran standing on the wing of her F-86 whilst talking to Chuck Yeager and Canadair's chief test pilot Bill Longhurst. (Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)
1. Air Force Link is provided as a public service by the Office of the Secretary of Air Force (Public Affairs).

2. Information presented on Air Force Link is considered public information and may be distributed or copied. Use of appropriate byline/photo/image credits is requested.

Setting...


We had a fun & casual dinner party at home this past weekend with some friends.
I served a mexican corn & poblano chile soup, you can find the recipe here. With what some people call "mexcan pizza" or "molletes" as we call them here in Mexico. It consists of bread (I made my own organic whole wheat organic bread) slathered with refried beans, topped with cheese then broiled in the oven till the cheese is melted and golden. The molletes are served with "pico de gallo": chopped tomato, serrano chile, onion and cilantro... yum :)

The FAS: Teaching the Art of the Inked Line


In the 'Commercial Art and Illustration' volume of the Famous Artists School binders, the art of the inked line is one of the very first lessons. Who could teach this lesson any better?


After all, the 12 founding members of the FAS were among the most skilled, successful and popular illustrators of the 20th century. You could do a lot worse than to be the beneficiary of their collective knowledge!


Some people scoff at the Famous Artists Course because the images are dated and because the course was offered by correspondence -- as if it were just a money-making scam. But for the sincere and ambitious student of illustration you could not ask for better instruction.


As a kid I learned a ton about drawing with pencil, pen, brush and ink from a book called How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way.

Now I realise that the lessons in that book were virtually lifted from the Famous Artists Course and simplified for a younger audience. I wonder how many other illustrators of more recent generations have studied from the teachings of Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett, Austin Briggs, et al and, like me, didn't even know it?


Green kid or seasoned vet, we could all benefit from reviewing what the Famous Artists taught countless thousands all those years ago.

Take a look at these lessons at full size in my FAS Flickr set.

Dictionary Iconography

The Letter V


Headpiece for the letter G


The Lettrine 'K'


The letter B - alphabet iconography


19th century lettrine - 'C'


Lettrine iconography - 'R'


The Letter T - iconography

Lettrine - F


The Lettrine - G


Alphabet iconography - the letter 'H'

The first 7 ornamental lettrines (I continue to support our co-opting of this french word) are by Napoléon Landais from either his 'Dictionnaire Général et Grammatical des Dictionnaires Français' (1834) or his 'Petit Dictionnaire Français Portatif' (1840).

The last 3 lettrines are from 'Le Grand Dictionnaire Universel' (1865) by Pierre Larousse.

The Université Pierre-Mendès-France in Grenoble have a database called 'Art Dico' in which the iconographical elements of 19th century french dictionaries are collected. Actually, we are told that the images above are not really lettrines (illuminated letters); rather they are called iconophors - something of a neologism to describe an iconic letter together with surrounding pictures that start with that letter (apple = 'A' etc). There is a fair bit of english available and it's interesting to browse around - mouseover the website images to discover the name of each related picture. It's all easy. For instance, in one of the letter 'G' images above, you can see Gulliver and Galileo if you look hard enough. Some are more esoteric/french/difficult than others. To date they have 64 Dictionaries, 363 Ornaments and 1048 Items uploaded.
"In the fifteenth century, the inception of printing changed the way text was reproduced and transmitted. The old ornamentation, however, remained, though its original function as a means of glorifying the sacred word was progressively disappearing. Late in the seventeenth century, a few French dictionaries began offering ornamentation embodying a particular encounter of letter and image: the initial-letter introducing the A section, combined the letter A and an illustration of some entity whose name starts with A. This was congruent with the old principle of giving the reader a glimpse, on the threshold, of what is to come."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fly...

I wonder where they're going...

Watercolor on paper.

Botanical Illustrations by Georg Ehret

Plumeria

Sheradia


Ketmia


Martynia - flower illustrations by Georg Dionys Ehret


Papaya


Polianthes by Georg Ehret


Abutilon


Ceratocephalus


Cereus


Gardenia


Baruce

After studying horticulture in his native Germany, Georg Dionys Ehret (1708-1770) moved to Holland where he pursued botanical illustration. In a suitable testament to his distinguished talents, the great Carl Linneaus was among the first supporters of Ehret, with whom he collaborated on a book recording the contents of the renowned Georg Clifford estate ('Hortus Cliffortianus', 1838).

Ehret spent the second half of his life in England and was to become one of the most respected and influential botanical artists of the 18th century. He had already become known to the physician and passionate botanist, Chrisoph Trew, who acted as patron and publisher to Ehret for decades. Their collaboration produced one of the finest botanical works of the century in 'Plantae Selectae', which was published over about 20 years until 1769.

Linneaus wrote to Trew:
"The miracles of our century in the natural sciences are your work of Ehret's plants. Nothing to equal them was seen in the past or will be in the future."
The images above come from a small and very rare self-published series that Ehret engraved and personally coloured, the 18 illustrations being issued between 1748 and 1759. 'Plantae et Papiliones Rariores' is online at the University of Strasbourg and they have huge images available.
- The University of Maryland have a review of this series and discussion about both Ehret and Linnaeus by James L Reveal.
- Georg Ehret at Wikipedia.

Women's History Month, 7 Representative women

Representative women, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, LC-USZ62-5535]TITLE: Representative women / L. Schamer del. CALL NUMBER: PGA - Prang--Representative women (B size) [Pamp;P], REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-5535 (b&w film copy neg.), LC-USZ62-4891 (b&w film copy neg. of Anna Dickinson), No known restrictions on publication.
Digital ID: cph 3a08842 Source: b&w film copy neg. LC-USZ62-5535 Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-5535 (b&w film copy neg.) , LC-USZ62-4891 (b&w film copy neg. of Anna Dickinson) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA Retrieve uncompressed archival TIFF version (1,944 kilobytes)

Images Clockwise:SUMMARY: Head-and-shoulders portraits of seven prominent figures of the suffrage and women's rights movement. MEDIUM: 1 print : lithograph, tinted.
CREATED/PUBLISHED: Boston : L. Prang & Co., c1870. CREATOR: L. Prang & Co.

RELATED NAMES: Schamer, L., artist. NOTES: 3114A2 U.S. Copyright Office. Title from item. Copyright by L. Prang & Co.

REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

DIGITAL ID: (b&w film copy neg. LC-USZ62-5535) cph 3a08842 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a08842 , (b&w film copy neg. LC-USZ62-4891) cph 3a08229 hdl.loc.gov/cph.3a08229 , CARD #: 98508687

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, LC-USZ62-5535]

MARC Record Line 540 - No known restrictions on publication.

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The Art of the Inked Line: Frank Lacano

Beautiful, inspiring drawings are all around us, often escaping notice because we don't take the time to really look.


I discovered these wonderful ink line drawings by Frank Lacano in a bunch of science booklets for sale at a local thrift store. I paid 25 cents a piece for the booklets - but the work by Lacano is invaluable. They reveal so much about good design, composition and technique... and Lacano teaches as much by what he chose to leave out as by what he chose to put into each illustration.


Because these booklets are from 1971, I might be pushing the parameters of the vintage era Today's Inspiration covers (afterall, I was a kid in 1971 and I'm hardly vintage... am I? Oh no...)


But Lacano had long been a master of the ink line drawing-with-spot-colour style of illustration by the time he did these pieces. He had done similar work two and three decades earlier for the likes of Reader's Digest and Coronet magazine.

I have a special fondness for this type of work... its an approach to illustration that was popular with pulp and digest magazines in the 40's and 50's -- publications that used poorer printing methods and cheaper paper. Its a shame that its not used more today because, as you can see here, the effect can be quite striking. In many ways, more striking than full colour.


Lacano makes it look easy -- but the artist must decide which elements will be line and which will be shape - and how the combination will most effectively create an entire picture that not only defines its elements but also creates the illusion of mood and lighting - and without the benefit of local colour. Its a fun challenge, but anyone who's tried it will tell you how difficult it is to do really successfully.


As though that weren't enough, Lacano embues his inking style with an exciting character and energy - well worth examining at closer range. Why not do so... take a look at the largest size versions of these images in my Frank Lacano Flickr set.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My beloved journal

My latest journal page.
I made my beloved journal a cotton canvas slipcover today
with a pocket embelished with some little flower pots.
The new Martha Stewart Living magazine
has a gorgeous article on silk ribbon embroidery.
It got me super inspired & I thought I'd give it a try.

Black History Month, H. Rap Brown

H. Rap Brown, SNCC, Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, LC-DIG-ppmsc-01263]TITLE: H. Rap Brown, SNCC [i.e., Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], news conference, CALL NUMBER: LC-U9- 17744-28 [P&P], REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-DIG-ppmsc-01263 (digital file from original negative), No known restrictions on publication.

SUMMARY: Photograph shows half-length portrait of Brown (later Jamil Al-Amin) speaking into a microphone with a bandage on his forehead. MEDIUM: 1 negative : film. CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1967 Jul. 27.
Digital ID: ppmsc 01263 Source: original Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsc-01263 (digital file from original negative) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA Retrieve higher resolution JPEG version (52 kilobytes)

CREATOR: Trikosko, Marion S., photographer. NOTES: Title from contact sheet folder caption. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection. Contact sheet available for reference purposes: USN&WR COLL - Job no. 17744, frame 28.

REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. DIGITAL ID: (original) ppmsc 01263 hdl.loc.gov/ppmsc.01263, CARD #: 2003688122

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, LC-DIG-ppmsc-01263]

MARC Record Line 540 - No known restrictions on publication.

Publication and other forms of distribution: Per the deed of gift, the U.S. News & World Report, Inc., dedicated to the public all rights it held for the photographs in this collection upon its donation to the Library. The majority of the photographs in this collection (THIS IMAGE) were done for hire by U.S. News & World Report staff photographers, primarily Warren K. Leffler, Thomas J. O'Halloran, Marion S. Trikosko, John Bledsoe, and Chick Harrity identified on photographic captions by their initials --WKL, TOH, MST, JTB, and CWH. There are no known restrictions on their photographs.

H. Rap Brown, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

H. Rap Brown (born October 4, 1943) came to prominence in the 1960s as a civil rights worker, black activist, and the Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party. He is perhaps most famous for his proclamation during that period that "violence is as American as cherry pie", as well as once stating that "If America don't come around, we're gonna' burn it down".

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article, H. Rap Brown.

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The Art of the Inked Line: DMS

Just because a drawing is small and the subject matter seems inconsequential doesn't mean it isn't praise-worthy.


And just because the artist who drew the picture isn't one of the recognized masters of the period doesn't mean we should not celebrate his talents.


Around the mid-1950's, Good Housekeeping began an insert feature on coarse paper called "The Better Way - A monthly service portfolio designed to keep readers informed on numerous matters factual and fascinating." Art Director Gene Davis commissioned about a dozen small spot illustrations each month for this section.


The artists who worked on 'The Better Way' never received a credit line... and since the illustrations were reproduced at a very small size, many seem to have opted for signing with initials instead of a full signature (which likely would have become obscured).


One of the steadiest contributors to this section was an illustrator who signed his work with the initials 'DMS'. This artist was, in my opinion, doing some really lovely work. His contour-line ink drawings showed an economy and sensitivity that made for some excellent visuals. If we "read between the lines" of DMS' illustrations, we can see he was a very skilled professional.


And here's a really odd coincidence: around that same time, another illustrator, David Stone Martin, was powerfully influencing the way line art was being done. Up until that point most line art styles had a clean, realistic, very commercial look to them. David Stone Martin (already reknowned for the many record jackets he had illustrated for top jazz artists) was now doing high profile magazine illustrations in his trademark scraggily line style. Now that style was being imitated and modified by many other illustrators. You can see David Stone Martin's ( or DSM's) influence on DMS' work!


Of course you can see that DMS was less stylized (there is an underlying structure of 'realism' to most of his work) but its that looser, organic quality that the actual line displays - the character of the line - that makes the work so appealing and elevates it above the merely utilitarian.


This week, let's take a look at the art of the inked line - in all its glorious variations!

*To truly appreciate the quality of DMS' work, I urge you to go to my new DMS Flickr set and view each image at its largest size.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

MY FAVORITE BAD ARTISTS

I've often made fun of today's fashionable comic artists who can't draw. You'll find them in lofty venues like the New York Times or art museums, worshipped by intellectuals who have persuaded themselves that traditional artistic standards are not relevant to the "new" art forms.


Awful drawing by Gary Panter republished by the Smithsonian Institution


Terrible drawing by Frank Stack also republished by the Smithsonian Institution

We are told for example that we can't judge the new "sophisticated and literate" brand of comic art without taking into consideration its words, or its politics, or its sadness, or some other redeeming external feature. Artists of the modern graphic novel, we are told, should not be measured by the standards applied to previous generations of artists (standards such as design, composition or linework). Instead, their pictures are to be read "like music notes on paper. They're just marks, unless you understand music, can read them, and then it becomes music... inside your brain."

My own view is that the emperor has no clothes. However, any critic taking such a position had better check in the mirror to make sure his own clothing is zipped up before venturing out in public.

Art is the great untidy thing, and I confess that I too am fond of artists with weak artistic ability just because I like their storytelling, or their style, or their spirit, or-- sometimes-- their weirdness.

One mediocre artist I like is Wally Wood, who worked for MAD Magazine and countless other publications.



Wood was no great draughtsman. His figures were stiff and often formulaic. He did a lot of sloppy work. He never quite mastered perspective or foreshortening. (Note this cool spaceman with his head growing out of his shoulder:)



Despite his flaws, I really enjoy his work. Wood was a seminal figure in popular culture, someone who made important contributions to the imagery of science fiction and satire. His subversive imagination worked well with Harvey Kurtzman's to challenge the "creeping meatballism" of 1950s and 1960s culture.



Note the beatnik in the background of one of Wood's trademark weird illustrations from MAD:



Another mediocre artist I like is Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit and the founding father of the graphic novel. Eisner's meager drawing ability was barely adequate to convey his talent. He had no great aptitude for design or composition, but he was a creative story teller with a strong visual sense. He wisely turned to a series of ghost artists (including Wally Wood) to help him.



Eisner's art was just competent enough to portray the cinematic angle shots and shadows for which he was justly famous.




Eisner's Spirit was smart, funny and a joy to read.

There are other artists whose style, personality, wit or story line compensate for their artistic weaknesses. Some that come readily to mind are Lynda Barry, Harvey Kurtzman, Scott Adams and Garret Gaston.

Is it fair for me to criticize some current artists (such as Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter and Frank Stack) for their mediocre drawing while forgiving other artists (such as Wood and Eisner) for their own lack of talent? What's the difference between the art I like and the art I don't?

First, I find it is much easier to accept mediocre art when it is unpretentious. Artists such as Wood and Eisner toiled for decades pouring creativity onto cheap pulp paper. They were under appreciated and underpaid. By contrast, their modern counterparts found early fame and are lauded in deluxe coffee table books from the Smithsonian Institution filled with gushing self-congratulatory prose about how the new generation has elevated the medium:

When Raw finally came to an end and Spiegelman collected his pulitzer prize for Maus, few would deny that, in the right hands, the once lowly comic book rivaled film and the novel as a medium for sophisticated and literate narrative expression. On New York's Upper West Side, comics were now "hip" after all.
As far as I'm concerned, unwarranted arrogance strips mediocre art of its charm.

Second, I am not impressed with the "hip" sophistication that supposedly redeems the current art. I am told that the new generation of graphic novelists deals with more mature and adult themes like the bleakness of modern life. To me, this is like saying that Wally Wood's art was more "adult" during the phase when he drew softcore porn for a living. Wood's "mature" subject did not redeem his art. Quite the contrary, Wood's pornography, like Chris Ware's adolescent nihilism, is actually less mature than MAD magazine. Tragedy is a fitting subject for adult art but mewling, bleating, puking and whining do not redeem mediocrity in art, they underscore it.

Wood was a pioneer in an infant medium. He fought battles for artistic freedom and artists rights that his successors never had to fight. Despite his prolific output, he was never compensated as well as his successors. He was not unaware of bleakness in life; he had health problems and struggled with the bottle and depression before he killed himself. But Wood was never narcissistic enough to fill graphic novels with his personal demons.

Wood had the misfortune to be born in an era when people still cared about the quality of the pictures. His generation felt obligated to try to get things right artistically, and Wood fell short. However, his legacy was a generation of wonderful images and stories of children, rocketships, and alien creatures. A mediocre artist could do a lot worse.