Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Must be the time of the year for demos.

Just a few...

The oil paintings were attempted during the community college Art Appreciation classes I teach in Paterson, NJ, while the black and white acrylic number was for my sophomore level Pictorial Foundation section at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Each demo was completed in just about an hour; the oils are of students in each respective class, and the black and white piece completed from a scrap of photo reference, originally taken for another project.

All the demos in this batch were done without any preliminary pencil drawings, just attacked with a brush from the start. The oils were completed using a limited palette of titanium white, cadmium yellow light, yellow ochre, cadmium red light, permanent alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and cerulean blue, with some sap green thrown in for mixing up blacks and some burnt umber to tone the support. They're painted on canvas, linen, and prepared paper, respectively. The acrylic piece was completed on an acrylic primed sheet of Fabriano Soft Press 140 lb watercolor paper.

I should probably put a step by step at some point, but for now finishing an image with a dozen or so students huddled around might have been miraculous enough...

In other related news, this Friday, the 9th of December, I'm looking forward to conducting an after school oil painting workshop at Millburn High School here in NJ, working from a model and broken up into a one hour demo and two hours of supervised painting on the part of the students.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 24th is Fish Amnesty Day! Get a move on it!

No longer, Becky told herself,
would Mr. Squiggy be forced to circle
his tiny bowl of tepid tap water,
goggled by visitors and fed those small
factory made protein pellets.
No, for today he had been made free,
free to make his own choices, 
liberated from the stifling care
of his old home,
to chart his own course
and seek his own fortune.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In the New Stuff department...

This Fall, I'll have two new titles out, Jingle Bells: How The Holiday Classic Classic Came To Be, by John Harris and published by Peachtree, and Better Than You, a new collaboration with Trudy Ludwig, author of Just Kidding. Originally slated for release by recently folded Tricycle Press, it will be published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House.

 From Jingle Bells, By John Harris. Peachtree Publishers, 2011. Oil on Paper. 
From Jingle Bells, By John Harris. Peachtree Publishers, 2011. Oil on Paper. 

 From Better Than You, By Trudy Ludwig. Random House, 2011. Oil on Paper. 
 From Better Than You, By Trudy Ludwig. Random House, 2011. Gouache on Paper. 

New things are also afoot, and while I can't divulge much, I will leave you with this tidbit... and while I still cannot avail further details or specifics, I can relate at the very least that the protagonist is not, in fact, the stuffed flying badger.

Also coming down the proverbial pike is the corresponding title to this recently completed painting for Lee and Low...

...a 22" x 30" oil on paper for a book that is not about 19th century competitive bocce ball.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Who is this guy?

Well, for now his identity is classified, but he's definitely not the world's first major league deaf baseball player.

And while I can't divulge his identity at this point, I'll be posting further updates on his travails as his Fall 2012 world debut approaches. No action figures are in the works right now, but you can see why I might want one.

IN OTHER NEWS, I was recently profiled and interviewed by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators NJ chapter regional adviser and all around go-getter Kathy Temean, and will be participating in the NJ SCBWI November 5th-6th Craft Day at the Princeton Hyatt Regency, with an oil paintin' workshop on Saturday, and sticking around to participate in their Illustrators' Day Mentoring Workshop on Sunday.

The whole kit and caboodle and be found here:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cobbled together.

15" x 22," oil on paper.

I still can't tell you much about this project, except that it comes out next year, and the main character is not a croquet prodigy who interns in his youth as an apothecary. 


Monday, May 23, 2011

I'll tell you what it's for in a year.

oil on paper, 15.5" x 22"

But to be fair, here are a few hints: it's not about badminton, and it doesn't take place in the future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A little ol' workshop.

oil on canvas, 14"x18"

This past Friday, I was invited into Millburn High School, in Millburn, NJ, to conduct an oil painting demo and workshop, for what I can only describe as the most enthusiastic and attentive group of students I've ever been in front of. The model originally booked for the afternoon had to cancel, and this young lady volunteered to hold her pose for the four hours I was there. 

Not counting the "let's let the model stretch out her back muscles so she neither faints nor atrophies" breaks, she sat as still as a statue, and every time she returned to her pose, even the little dot of light hitting the far corner of her mouth was in place.  She really did a remarkable job.

Special thanks to Kathleen Harte-Gilsenan for putting the whole thing together, and particularly for amassing around her such an informed and passionate group of students.

photo: Kathleen Harte-Gilsenan

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's up!

Original paintings from my book The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber, published by Tricycle Press, are now on display at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, MA, mentioned this week in the Boston Globe's Art Critic's Picks.  I'll be at the museum on Thursday the 21st, signing copies of the book and giving two talks to students.

Special thanks, of course, to everyone at the museum who made this exhibition possible, as well as funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Elka for writing such a fascinating book,  Joann Taylor, our editor, and publishing director Nicole Geiger, during whose tenure Tricycle Press put out such a consistent list of high-quality, dependably relevant children's books on all variety of both familiar and unexpected topics.

More information is to be found at the museum web site. Exciting doings, indeed!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I could tell you what's in the bag, but you should probably just buy the book.

Jenni Holm's new novel "The Trouble with May Amelia" is officially out making it's way in the world, and I was lucky enough to ride its coattails via my contribution of pen-and-ink chapter headers. Published by Simon and Schuster's Atheneum imprint, it's a wonderful book.

It also has the distinction of being one of the few children's books ever written and illustrated exclusively by descendants of Finnish-Americans, so you know it's full of risiipurru, sisu, and authentic references to fish head soup. Or, in the words of Publisher's Weekly:

Twelve-year-old May Amelia Jackson lives on a farm in Washington State in 1900 with her parents, Finnish immigrants, and a passel of brothers. Life is hard, but Holm works humor into even the grimmest situations, and Gustavson's chapter-opening spot art adds a cozy, atmospheric touch. A ransacking bull (named Friendly) knocks down the outhouse (with May Amelia inside); suitors romancing Miss McEwing are sent packing in various, inventive ways lest the school lose its beloved teacher. Judicious use of Finnish phrases adds flavor, and details ground the story in an era when boys were still routinely "shanghaied" (involuntarily pressed into service on ships bound for Asia). "Best Brother" Wilbert tells her she's as irritating as a grain of sand in an oyster, and it's mighty fun to watch May Amelia morph into a pearl. Ages 8 -12.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Painting Demo

It's an unofficial tradition at the University of the Arts in Philly to give sophomore illustration majors an "Old Masters" assignment, asking students to reinterpret a great work of art from antiquity, and to render it as close to the size of the original as possible.

Some highlights from my class this semester involved recasting Caravaggio's version of the "Judith beheading Holofernes" as a mural sized involuntary beard shaving, and Goya's "the Third of May, 1808" as a wet t-shirt contest. For my demonstration, I completely cheated, as is my prerogative as an instructor, and chose a small piece by Vermeer involving only one figure, "The Milkmaid." In my defense, though, it's a Vermeer, and no cheap impersonation or homage is ever as good as a Vermeer. Aside from the comparison it begs to its untouchable Dutch predecessor, I also think I lost a little of my young lady's quirkiness, present in the sketch, as I rushed through the oil painting. Character can be such a delicate issue; a few dabs of the right color wrong places, and the species and gender remain, but, nope, not the character.

But anyway, here's she is. The whole thing was handled in what I like to think of as the Julia Child method, where one starts a preliminary step, proceeds halfway through, then pulls out a earlier version to complete. In this case, there was a subdued "local color" underpainting in place, and the demo proceeding in two steps, the first of which was to lay down a thin glaze of sap green and burnt sienna over the whole thing, unifying the temperature throughout. The second step that proceeded involved about an hour of scumbling and building up lit surfaces in the composition, exploring chromatic changes that occur with the varying of paint's opacity when applied in successive layers.

Sounds pretty highfalutin, if you ask me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Glowing New Review

Pamela Kramer, over at Examiner.com, wrote a very nice review and follow up feature on my recent book with author Deborah Blumenthal, The Blue House Dog.

The Blue House Dog, written by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Adam Gustavson, is a picture book that will be appreciated by children aged five and older. Adults will enjoy the beautifully created illustrations and the carefully crafted prose that accompanies each picture.
The free verse is wisely and elegantly constructed to tell the story with a combination of facts, metaphor and feelings. Just as carefully created are the illustrations. They don't just illustrate the story; they combine seamlessly with the text to create a touching, lovely package.
Bones, the stray dog, lived with an old man in a “house painted ocean blue.” He was there when the man died, and then he escaped and has been living on the streets since. “On a gray day in winter, they start to tear down the blue house, with Bone’s old life inside. Now he’ll have even less than he had before.”
The boy in the story has a loss of his own to deal with. His own beloved dog died and he misses him. “When you lose someone who’s as close as your own skin, the only place you can find him again is hidden inside your memories.
The boy and the dog, both lonely, both sad, slowly find each other and, in the end, make each other whole again. “There are no stray dogs around here now. Blue likes it that way, and so do I.
This touching story was inspired by the true story of a stray dog in Astoria, Queens (New York). The dog wandered the neighborhood, named by different people and fed by families, until finally a rescuer captured the dog, treated it for worms, and found it a permanent safe home.
The illustrator shared with me some thoughts about the book. "The Blue House Dog story was so quiet, and Deborah’s choice of language did such a great job of establishing a mood, it seemed even more befitting to zoom out here and there and make an image about the time of day, or to grab images from her text and make them metaphors for some greater theme (the daffodils that bloom, wilt, and return throughout the book, for instance)."
He also said, "In the Blue House Dog paintings, I wanted the neighborhood, the elm trees, and the dappled little bits of suburban sunlight to be characters too, and being allowed to take that approach in the pictures can give the the story freedom to sort of float over everything."
A wonderful gift for anyone aged five to adult--dog lovers of all ages will enjoy this story of love and friendship and overcoming loss. No bookshelf should be without it.
-Pamela Kramer
One of the best parts about reviewing books is being able to ask the authors and illustrators questions about their work. Almost without exception, the authors and illustrators are very gracious and happy to explain the creative processes that go into the finished product.
An especially beautifully written and illustrated picture book that was recently reviewed was The Blue House Dog. Adam Gustavson, the illustrator, was happy to share his thoughts and actions in creating the beautiful oils that are such an important part of the book.
One learns that even childhood experiences can shape illustrations. Adam says, "When I was growing up, my cousin had a big German Shepherd mix. I always liked her markings, particularly around the eyes. I find that when trying to draw a dog, those same German Shepherd-type markings can be the source of so much expressive potential."
Adam wanted to make sure he remembered the Shepherd markings and shape so he did research. "When I received the manuscript for the Blue House Dog project, I tracked down a friend with another German Shepherd mix and just followed her around with a camera for an hour or so. Granted, there was no way she was going to do what I would have needed her to do for the book, but I wanted to make sure I at least had accurate reference for the dog’s proportions."
It wasn't enough just to get the dog to look right. Adam wanted to try to think like the dog in the story. "Beyond that, there was a lot of thinking, though I also spent a bit of time crouching around neighborhoods, trying to see how the world comes together from a dog’s vantage point. (I’m sure this looked splendid to all the neighbors.) There was a lot of erasing, too, just until I’d fiddled enough with the dog’s body language to get things to feel right, particularly where he’s being skittish or startled."
Through Adam's explanations, one can sense the joy he experiences when creating the pictures that illustrate a story. "Arranging the pictures around the text comes pretty early in the process, and I always particularly enjoy that part of picture book illustration. There’s a puzzle to it; somewhere, there’s a vantage point that leaves just the right amount of open space, and sometimes even the off-kilter shape of a paragraph can serve as inspiration. With regard to the subject of each picture—what it shows or doesn’t show—I do sort of feel it’s the job of the illustrations to fill out the story. The pictures get to provide some sort of cinematic backdrop, and to pace out the story by focusing somewhere between the sentences. The Blue House Dog story was so quiet, and Deborah’s choice of language did such a great job of establishing a mood, it seemed even more befitting to zoom out here and there and make an image about the time of day, or to grab images from her text and make them metaphors for some greater theme (the daffodils that bloom, wilt, and return throughout the book, for instance)."
Most of all, after talking with Adam, it's quite apparent that illustrating a story is not just creating a group of pictures. Adam thinks about the author's message and how to send that message pictorally as well as in the text. He explained, "It also touched on events that children witness at arm’s length (like the death of the old man). I remember times like that in my childhood; when you’re not close enough to witness something profound first hand, your surroundings can become laden with personal meanings. I remember looking at my neighbor’s house once, after I learned she’d died, and it really looked different. Not in a way that could really be described in words, at least not by me, but that’s something that the subtlety of a picture can be about. There’s a reason Edward Hopper cityscapes have a very particular loneliness to them, and it’s not because anyone’s mugging for the camera, so to speak. It’s something that’s just imbedded in all the formal subtleties of the painting, its color, its compositions, the brushwork even. In the Blue House Dog paintings, I wanted the neighborhood, the elm trees, and the dappled little bits of suburban sunlight to be characters too, and being allowed to take that approach in the pictures can give the the story freedom to sort of float over everything."
The Blue House Dog is one of the finest picture books to be released in recent years. It s poetry, metaphor and beauty touch a chord in all who read it--even those who are not animal lovers. Adults as well as younger readers will appreciate the brilliant language and lovely imagery. Thanks, Adam, for shedding some light on your contribution to this fabulous book.
-Pamela Kramer

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's Robinson Crusoe Day!

Yes, indeed. A fine, fine day to send out message in a bottle tweets from your remote island home.

Incidentally, I've never typed in phone text abbreviations before, and had to visit the Twitter feeds of both Kanye West and Paris Hilton to research this sort of thing.