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.