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!
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
The making of this piece can be seen step by step on my website, as dissolves.
From May to June 2013, I was the instructor of a month-long art program in Japan with my colleague Len Thomas-Vickory. Len and I instructed 15 students from the Montserrat College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, travelling to Niigata, Tōkyō, Ōsaka, Kyōto and Nara, teaching Woodblock Printmaking and Journalistic Drawing courses in partnership and collaboration with the wonderful faculty of the Niigata College of Art and Design, Montserrat’s sister school.
A year ago today, astronaut Neil Armstrong passed away at age 82. In days following this sad news, I gave my Illustration Concepts course’s students the assignment to create an editorial illustration about this event. As we discussed various ideas and possibilities for this assignment, I felt compelled to create an illustration myself, displayed below.
I had a surreal vision of an American flag half-mast, in a silent, quiet display of respect for the fallen astronaut. I also drew a variant, with bouquets and flowers slowly floating due to the moon’s gravity, which contribute to the supernatural atmosphere of the image. However, I feel as though the added iconography may detract from the effect of the half-mast.
As a member of RISD’s Illustration Department faculty, I have recently participated in a large-scale collaborative illustration project for the TEDMED 2013 Conferences, art directing and creating illustrations for publication on the conferences’ printed book programs, banners, and various other types of display at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In addition to the exciting challenge of creating artwork in a wide variety of media, it was a joy to research and learn about the accomplishments of the conferences’ diverse speakers, whose dedication is an inspiration to creative individuals, and with whom we as visual artists share a common curiosity.
Economist and Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter is an authority in competitive strategy, applied to economic development, industry, ecology and health care. Unlike specialists who study these various elements in isolation, Mr Porter’s research is holistic, analyzing these components as parts of a unified system. I depicted Mr Porter in front of a “war map” to illustrate his expertise as a strategist as well as the connections between all of his areas of study. On a symbolic level, the green color of the background represents health and is an allusion to a non-profit organization founded by Mr Porter, ICHOM, while the color of his tie (mauve) is a nod to the Harvard Business School.
Andrew Solomon is an award-winning writer on politics, psychology, society and arts, who has contributed to publications such as the New York Times, New Yorker and many more. Mr Solomon’s latest book is Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, which tells the stories of families dealing with exceptional parent-child circumstances, often perceived as handicaps or obstacles: children with autism, dwarfism, prodigies, criminality and more. After extensive reading of Mr Porter’s writings, I chose to illustrate his message that this diversity in identities is what unites us, by drawing the author in front of a chain of paper people, which paradoxically vary in sizes and shape, in a surreal manner.
Nota bene: Mr Solomon’s portrait’s colour scheme was altered for the printed materials, for the sake of stylistic consistency with other works in the exhibit.
Illustrations displayed as banners. Ashley Atkinson’s portait was created by Kelly Murphy.
The theme for the 2013 Conferences is “Unexpected Connections,” and artists sought to work in a variety of styles and media to portray this diversity. I led a team of 4 students to create 2 portraits of speakers each. Below, illustrations by the talented Ellen Alsop, Yoora Chae, Suzanne Geary and Alison Rutsch.
This project was additionally a wonderful opportunity to work with Alexander Isley Inc., which was responsible for the creative direction of the conferences’ visual materials. Below, a photograph of a meeting with RISD teams, TEDMED and Alexander, as well as an overview of the 58 portraits of the conference speakers.
My RISD Introduction to Illustration class and I had the honour of receiving the visit of Victo Ngai, whose talent is rivaled only by her work ethic. Victo’s presentation was remarkably eloquent and insightful, prompting words of appreciation from the students every single week till the end of the term.
Above illustration © copyright Victo Ngai. All Rights Reserved.