The Search for the Forgotten Book

When I was an elementary school student in Tokyo in the 1980s, my classmates and I loved reading. We would often be found lost in the books of Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Jack London, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, among others, in the library, hallways, or on the long, monotonous school bus rides.

One of our favourite picture books was by a lesser-known author, and told the story of an old explorer, who travelled the world to document its colourful monsters. This explorer had managed to discover and catalog all existing monsters except one species, which had proved elusive. Part bestiary, part alphabet book, this was the story of the explorer’s (futile?) quest to find traces of this last, mythical monster.

Our teachers, typically so supportive of reading, seemed to frown upon this book—they felt that it was not sufficiently educational or moral, but we loved it. As there was but a single copy of this book at the library, we had to eagerly wait for it to be returned before—at long last!—enjoying it ourselves.

As an adult, I often thought of this book, recalling how much my brother, friends and I enjoyed it, yet failing to recall its author’s name and very title. Indeed, unlike ubiquitous classics such as Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Witches, it never surfaced for me to serendipitously happen upon it, whether in my adolescence or time in college. Occasionally, I would ask colleagues and peers if the book’s plot was familiar to them, sadly to no avail. Even my wife, a picture book writer and illustrator herself, could not identify this now mysterious book.

How does one look online for a picture book, when the only search terms are ‘monster,’ ‘explorer’ and ‘alphabet’? The mission’s difficulty is evident to anyone who has used a search engine. Undeterred, I spent innumerable fruitless hours prowling the worldwide web in hope of a chance encounter. Nevertheless, the search appeared to be hopeless, proving vain for 20 years.

Until one day, I found the book.

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There it was! Casually mentioned on an obscure blog which I was cursorily browsing: Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-zoo. My quest for this book had mimicked the explorer professor’s hunt for the elusive monster, filling both his life, and mine, with happiness and purpose.

15 Circles

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Quick illustrations inspired by an idea generation exercise assigned to Japanese and American students by Niigata College of Art and Design graphic design professor Mr Koizumi.

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James Gurney’s Color Gamut Masking

Every winter, I have the pleasure of teaching a course named Introduction to Illustration during RISD’s Wintersession—a condensed academic term in January and February—with an exciting mix of Freshman, non-Illustration majors and graduate students. While this course is predominantly conceptual, I occasionally assign technical exercises to be executed in class, among which an experiment with the inspiring painter/illustrator James Gurney’s gamut masking technique. I find that applying this method is highly effective for students to develop a sensitivity to color’s relative nature and to address the difficulty of simultaneously working with tone, chroma, temperature and intensity. I thought that I would share some nice results by this year’s students, who have the freedom to select a favorite image of their choice to reproduce in a new color scheme.

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A color gamut mastercopy of a J. C. Leyendecker painting, by Freshman Kiana Shakeraneh.

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Freshman Cindy Shin’s color study of an illustration by the talented Kali Ciesemier.

To learn more about this technique, do visit James Gurney’s wonderful blog.

Casemate Magazine: spécial Charlie

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I had the honour of contributing to a special edition of Casemate, a French magazine covering bandes dessinées (comics). This edition is a “spécial Charlie”, under the patronage of the Angoulême International Comics Festival, in tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting and surrounding attacks in Paris.

277 comic books artists submitted illustrations, a selection of which were printed in the 32 page edition available in Angoulême.

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Cover illustrations by Asaf Hanuka and Didier Tarquin. Copyright reserved to Casemate BD and respective artists.

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Interior page. Copyright reserved to Casemate BD and respective artists.

In recent years, I have publically expressed my skepticism toward the trend for artists to frantically react to current events and flood the Internet with images. At worse, I am concerned that visual artists race to claim and trademark the “official image” of a tragedy (e.g. the disaster in the Tōhoku region of Japan). For this reason, I did not rush to post a “reaction” on the day of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. However, the heart of this matter is iconoclasm, self-censorship and the protection of freedom of speech in France, specifically as applied within my trade. I believe that this is a noble, crucial and vital cause. I would like to thank Casemate for its endeavor and to pay my respects to the victims of these recent events in my hometown of Paris.

8 Questions to Genereight : an interview of Charles Tsunashima

I am now a writer for the seminal, Japan-based magazine SHIFT, which has been covering creative culture since 1997. As an early reader of SHIFT—when I was beginning my professional career and perusing pioneering design portals online—it is an emotional privilege to now contribute to its publication.

My first article is an interview of Charles Tsunashima, founder of genereight. I have known Charles since childhood, at which time he was the only bonafide designer that I knew and hence, by default, the best. I have since attended a design college, worked for 14 years in the field and he remains the best I know.

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Above photograph and design © copyright Charles Tsunashima/genereight Inc. All Rights Reserved.

New Stories for Newtown

I had the great pleasure of joining fellow illustrators for the wonderful New Stories for Newtown event in Newtown, Connecticut, to spend the day with the town’s children and create portraits of their stuffed animals. Many thanks to all of the parents and childrens for their enthusiasm and patience, and to the event organizers for their hospitality and help.

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Drawing Natalie the seal, with her owner. PS: Apologies for writing the animal’s name with an “h” on the drawing, misguided by the name’s French spelling!

My model "Patterns" and I.

My model “Patterns” and I.

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Kelly, “Moochipoo” and a young client.

The students joined in as well. Below, beautiful drawings of “Swoops” by Taylor (right) and “Trooper” (left), by her owner.

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Mark Siegel at RISD

RISD students and I were honoured to greet Mark Siegel, pioneering editor of First Second Books and acclaimed author/illustrator of graphic novels and picture books (Sailor Twain, Boogie Knights, Sea Dogs, To Dance…). Mark held a workshop offering invaluable tools and insight to students for their creative life and presented a lecture at the RISD Museum’s Michael P. Metcalf Auditorium.

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Mark, directing a workshop to the students of Paul Karasik’s CoMix class.

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Poster for the lecture, adapted from the beautiful original cover of Sailor Twain designed by Colleen AF Venable.

Katherine Streeter Presentation at RISD

Today, the students of my Introduction to Illustration class and I had the special pleasure of welcoming the prolific and masterly illustrator Katherine Streeter. Katherine is traveling from New York to instruct a course about Collaged Images, in an adjoining classroom, and kindly took the time to drop by for a chat and presentation of her inspiring work. What luck to have such a talented neighbor this winter!

Katherine Streeter presenting or original artwork and tearsheets to students

PS: I just realized that, in a delightful coincidence, Katherine’s visit occurred precisely a year since Victo’s.

Moved by Gondry – An Article in XYZ Magazine

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I have recently written and illustrated an article for XYZ Magazine, the Rhode Island School of Design’s quarterly publication, about director Michel Gondry’s visit and lecture to the school in October 2013. Special thanks to editor Liisa Silander and her staff.


Moved by Gondry

“Symbols, rock and roll, a black dog, stairways and drums. These elements may spontaneously evoke Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, yet were the ingredients of French director Michel Gondry’s screening and lecture at the RISD Auditorium on a warm October evening.

Not surprisingly for a man who has been 12 years old forever (sic), he appears youthful and speaks with a gentle voice, which belies the strong will and exceptional artistry evident in such memorable films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, along with music videos for Björk, Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers, among others.

Though Gondry’s English may seem hesitant, it is clear that he plays with words and embraces misinterpretation at will, bending language and allowing it to amuse, defuse or enlighten. In his exchanges with students, this ability enables him to offer precise answers to convoluted questions—utilizing what might appear to be a limitation as a means of achieving clarity.”

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“Following the projection of four seminal music videos, Gondry casually shared a conviction which, I believe, can resonate with all artists. Halfway through the clip for The White Stripes’ single “The Hardest Button to Button”, the music is reduced to a monotonous bass drum beat, with sparse and occasional guitar notes. Gondry revealed that this breakdown, in his mind, was “the most boring” part of the song and that he asked the band if they might consider editing out the sequence for the sake of the video. Upon their refusal, Gondry committed to using his very best idea for this section, to compensate for the weakness of the original material.

For 21 captivating seconds, the band members travel in crossing sinusoidal paths in and out of a train and adjoining platform, in a pas de deux defying time and space. Gondry highlighted this problematic sequence as an example of a “black dog” (an amusing malapropism for the idiom “black sheep”, all the more unexpected and stimulating to the imagination since the French equivalent, “mouton noir”, is a sheep metaphor as well), the idea which is promptly discarded, dismissed upon initial impulse. Gondry likes to return to the garbage bin to retrieve this rejected idea, and believes that, with additional care as that which one would confer upon a troubled child, one eventually accomplishes the best creations. This resolve to transcend and sublimate apparent limitations, through inventiveness, refinement and persistence, is a defining feature of the creative spirit.”

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“Lights then dimmed for the only second-ever screening of Gondry’s latest film, Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?, a hand-drawn animated documentary of a series of conversations with Noam Chomsky—recorded over a two-year period between 2010 and 2012—focused on linguistics, science, religion and life. Gondry’s flowing line drawings and cycle animations complement the spoken words as Chomsky jumps from theme to theme and hits notes at times edifying, contemplative or poignant.

By design Gondry modestly allows his own use of English to insert moments of humor or misunderstanding, adding his personal touch and contributing to Chomsky’s stories. The moment of truth in the film—and the theory that motivated Gondry to make it—is a sequence in which Chomsky speaks of a leap forward—a mysterious event, possibly 100,000 years ago, which the erudite man marks as an evolutionary turning point. An unidentified phenomenon—presumably, an individual’s sudden discovery and mastery of language—both accelerated the development of civilization and forever altered our common destiny, introducing the ability of humans to communicate complex thoughts and ideas with one another, and thereby to plan and further develop.

Given its sophisticated modalities and strong appeal to all the senses, Gondry and Chomsky’s meandering conversation—so imaginatively documented in this new film—is the direct descendent of this phenomenon. Continuing in the long evolutionary line of language and communication, it is a poetic embodiment of human expression. Tall or short, every witness of this exchange must have left the auditorium happy.”

Process of new illustration, “Compendium”

A new painting created for a RISD Illustration Department show this Fall. I thought I would share the process behind the making of this piece. I wished to create an image that was 85% traditional and 15%, and applied one of my wife Kelly’s trademark techniques, under her guidance.

Below, the original pencil drawing (11 in. x 14 in. = 27.9 x 35.6 cm), a compendium of characters: human, semi-human, animal, insect, bird, plant, mythological beast, undead, robot, ghost and spirit.

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I then transferred this graphite drawing to a thicker painting paper stock, via a wintergreen oil transfer method: the drawing is photocopied so as to obtain a version of the art in toner ink, which when imbibed with wintergreen oil can then be printed onto another piece of paper via rubbing. This was done both to switch papers and obtain an etching like look, controlling the decay of the original line art.

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Close-up of the etching like quality of the handmade print.

The print is then monochromatically painted with oils and gel medium.

I will probably keep painting future works traditionally for additional steps, but in this instance I switched to digital paint for the last 15% of the process, glazing of colours.

Et voilà.

The making of this piece can be seen step by step on my website, as dissolves.