Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Horrabin's Puppet Show

Here's a new illustration that I just did for an upcoming group exhibition at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, CA. The image depicts a scene from the 1983 time-travel fantasy novel, The Anubis Gates. Media is acrylic wash and colored pencil on cold press illustration board, approximately 8"x10"

I'll be posting for information about the show soon, including dates and times.

Everyday Creativity

On the last day of the Miami conference, in the very last workshop, I gathered around a laptop screen with seven other artists to watch a 20-minute video called "Everyday Creativity". The workshop presenter, the highly renowned children's book illustrator E.B. Lewis, warned us that what we were about to watch might make us cry. Without getting too sentimental, I'd like to share a few thoughts and a basic overview of the film.

The film documents the philosophical viewpoint of National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones. You can watch the first 3 minutes here to get and idea for what the film discusses.

Dewitt asks the question, "How do we employ creativity on a daily basis?" The assumption here is that creativity cannot always be accessed on demand, but Dewitt argues that it is an ever-ready tool that everyone possesses, and that it can be accessed through your attitude toward the world. This is where it gets interesting...

I really like several points that Dewitt makes. 
- First, he summarizes creativity simply as looking at the ordinary and seeing the extraordinary. Doing this requires one to be completely open to the world, in other words, be curious and observant...very observant. In many respects, the artist's job is to share with a busy world their extraordinary discoveries. I'm reminded of the quote from Pippy Longstocking who said, "the whole world is full of things, and someone has to look for them."
I think of my students sitting in a dimly lit room for hours, observing a lit sphere and rendering it in pencil. They are learning to see, and with that discovering how beautiful a mundane object can be. This discipline crosses over into all areas of life. For example, walking down the street can become an exhilarating experience, or can just be a means to an end. The great Victorian era art critic, John Ruskin, expounds on how beauty can be possessed through the act of drawing:

"Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that's all!

But what will the sketcher see? 
His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes.

Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane."

"I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than to teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw."
                                                                                                                                                     -John Ruskin

-A great breakthrough happened for me when Dewitt shared his photography process. You see, he goes on assignment to all these wonderful places around the world and has to find the right answer - a stunning photograph. He begins to snap shots; he's not worried about making mistakes. He's believing that the right answer will be there. He keeps looking and shooting. Finally, everything comes together nicely into one photo and he knows that he's found a right answer. BUT, he doesn't pack up and go home. He keeps looking. There is more than one right answer. This is creativity!! Seeking out multiple perspectives and solutions to problems, doing the work and holding onto your vision. Michelangelo said it best, "I saw an angel in the stone and carved until I set it free."

I've recently started to relate this approach to my own work by allowing myself an exploration page. A page where I'm allowed to make mistakes, draw ugly horrible things that I'd be embarrassed to show. This equates to carving away at the stone. I have to spend time with the work, doing several drawings before I come close to a right answer. But I know it will be there, and I see it when I believe it. Dewitt talks about how there's no such thing as win-lose, only win-learn. I like that alot!

- Dewitt presents another philosophical approach to life in similar documentary called, "Celebrate What's Right with the World". This one is again all about attitude. The idea here is that your vision (your passion and creativity) directly influences your perception of the world, which ultimately creates your reality. If you approach life with the attitude of "what is here to celebrate?" you will begin building a vision of possibility. You will always be able to find a fresh perspective in your work, in your daily routine. By focusing on what's right, you will have the energy to fix what is wrong.

Another major paradigm shift of attitude is the idea that instead of trying to be the best in the world, be the best for the world. Doing so will create a better self, combining emotion and intellect to really care about your work and the people it affects.

Lastly, Dewitt compares creativity to a verse in the Bible that says, "the banquet is laid, but nobody comes." In the documentary, there was a striking photo of a city at dusk with a huge sweeping backdrop of snowcapped mountains in the distance. That image really spoke to me! (tissue box please). There were the beautiful mountains waiting to be discovered, but everyone was too busy to notice.While cities can be very beautiful, the comparison here is not which one is more beautiful, city or mountains. Rather, the city is symbolic of routine - mindless, unfulfilling activity that holds creativity hostage. The mountains on the other hand represent mystery and adventure, the things that make life exciting and beautiful. I love the mountains. As an artist, I definitely want to make you notice them.

It looked something like this...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mad About Children's Books

This weekend was my first time attending the SCBWI Florida regional conference in Miami. What a great experience!! Discussing books, stories, art, and philosophies for living a creative life definitely stoked my passion for illustration. Overall, I feel refreshed and re-focused about my personal vision and career path. There were many highlights over the three days, but here are my top 10 take-aways from the conference:

1. Smaller is better. As much as I love the National conference every summer in LA, I felt it was easier for me to connect with members and panelists more at the smaller regional conference. Plus, the amount of information given was manageable. Information overload is a common problem at the LA conference. But not this was just right. All the concepts and follow-up tasks are doable!
2. Getting to hang out with writers. Writers inspire me!!! They create the content that I love to read and illustrate! They know how to express ideas eloquently with words! Writers and illustrators are kindred spirits and it felt good to be in their company because we share the same vision and values. Lin Oliver put it best:
- We are optimistic about the future
- We believe in the great potential of young people
- We question authority
- We have active imaginations
- We have love in our hearts
3. E.B. Lewis' sharing Everyday Creativity and Celebrate What's Right with the World. These 20-minute documentaries changed my life. In fact I think I'll need to post a separate blog on this topic....
4. Helping to monitor the critiques. I was invited to be a back-up helping hand for the super intense, emotionally charged manuscripts and portfolio critiques. I loved observing everyone (writers & editors mostly) as they discussed intently.
5. Of course I bought books! 
- Gus Gets Scared by Frank Remkiewicz
- Jack's Garden by Henry Cole
- A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
- Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
- Where do Giggles Come From? by Diane Muldrow
- The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli
- Katy Duck Makes a Friend, illustrated by Henry Cole. (Had to get this, c'mon).
6. The Mad Hatter's Ball. People in the children's book industry love life and know how to have fun. Practically everyone dressed up in an Alice in Wonderland costume and hit the dance floor. A handful of us dueled it out until the very end (editors and agents included!)
7. Visiting Books and Books. The conference kick-off reception was held at Books and Books' beautiful outdoor courtyard. Such a charming place!
8. The Art of Friendship workshop with Tamar Brazis (editor at Abrams). We read several picture books and analyzed how the character development, relationship details, dialogue and conflict resolution allowed for sensitive and believable friendships between fictional characters. Then we did a few writing exercise and shared our ideas. I learned a lot here!
9. Socializing and networking. Always good to practice listening and generating conversation.
10. Driving to and through Miami. My adventurous drive was 3 hours 45 minutes along the Gulf coast, then across the Everglades and on over to the big city. Travel has always been my creative fuel, and this drive was pretty inspiring.

Here is a sampling from my conference sketchbook: