Saturday, December 22, 2007

The ghosts of Christmas cards past

A few years ago, I sent out a series of Christmas cards featuring some illustrations that I did with brush and ink. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time and/or energy to do this every year, but I thought that you would enjoy seeing these drawings that I did back in the 1990s, featuring my somewhat skewed sense of humor.

(click on images to zoom in)

Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the year to come!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas advertising ain't what it used to be

I am a big fan of Leif Peng's art blog, Today's Inspiration, which features vintage illustration and advertising art. If you like this kind of thing, I highly recommend his blog!

I was, well, inspired by Leif's blog, and decided to post some vintage Christmas ads, which I found via a google image search. Unfortunately, I was not able to get the names of the artists or the exact dates for most of theses ads. The first ad is from 1926, and you'll see that one of the pieces is signed by Norman Rockwell. Other than that, I'm in the dark on this stuff. If anyone would like to provide any information, that would be really nice-- as Leif rightly points out, so many of these great illustrators of the past are largely unknown today.

If you are as old as I am, these ads will really take you back to another world. I hope you enjoy them.

Hey, kids, how about a nice pocket watch for Christmas? And dig that bearskin rug!

How about.... a new car!
(Note: a car ad with no car! You won't see that today.)

You don't see too many of these any more...

Just the thing for the modern housewife!

Now these are what I call Christmas lights! Later for those little twinkle lights. These are the real deal!

Cool!!! Rifles for the whole family! (Actually, they are just pellet guns, but still-- way cool!)

To go with your pellet guns, hey-- how about a few cocktails! Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a little Johnny Walker. Delicious, and nutritious. "Hey mom, can I have another one?"

On second thought, maybe we should all just have some 7-Up....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Santa Claus by illustrator Haddon Sundblom

The character that we know as Santa Claus has, in one form or another, been around for hundreds of years, having its origins in the 4th century A.D. in the person of Saint Nicholas, who was a bishop in what is now modern-day Turkey. Over the centuries, the story of Saint Nicholas spread throughout Europe and he was mythologized, eventually becoming known by the Dutch as Sinter Klass. Dutch immigrants brought the legend to America in the 17th century. Santa became fully Americanized in 1823 in the poem "The Night Before Christmas".

Visually, Santa has a pretty lengthy history as well, but the basic version that most of us are familiar with was created in the 19th century by the American illustrator Thomas Nast. (The image on the left is Nast's "Merry Old Santa Claus", from Harper's Weekly, January 1, 1881.) This version of Santa Claus, however, was further developed by the great American illustrator Haddon Sundblom. In 1931, the Coca-Cola company commissioned Sundblom to develop advertising images of Santa, and he created a series of paintings of the beloved character over several decades. These paintings by Sundblom have become classics, and his version of Santa is the one that has become the standard for what most people envision when they think of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus by Haddon Sundblom, 1931-1964







For more information on Haddaon and Coca-Cola, click here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Faculty meetings

At faculty meetings, I try to be attentive for as long as I can, but sometimes I just start doodling.... When I'm not thinking about anything in particular, I might do something like this. I'm not a misogynist.. really, I'm not. I do admit to having some misanthropic tendencies, but I'm working on it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Art Books: A+, Five Stars, etc.

I would like to share with you some truly beautiful art books that I have picked up over the last year or two. Every one of these books is absolutely stunning!

Odd Nerdrum-- imagine Rembrandt painting pictures of a dreamlike post-apocalyptic world-- that's what Nerdrum's work makes me think of. Nerdrum just might be the greatest figure painter of our day. I saw several of his paintings at the Naples Museum of Art in Florida-- the exhibit was called New Old Masters (term coined by art critic Donald Kuspit). All I can say is WOW! Click here for more information.

Vincent Desiderio-- one of America's foremost figure painters. Technically masterful, intriguingly allegorical, and often poignant. Desiderio was also represented in the New Old Masters show in Naples. Again, exceptional work. More info here.

Todd Schorr-- one of the high masters of what is known variously as Lowbrow, Contemporary Pop, or Pop Surrealism. Beautiful reproductions, many close-ups and foldouts. Details can be found here.

James Rosenquist-- as far as I am concerned, he is the best of the original Pop artists from the 1960s. Unlike Warhol, who became a parody of himself and whose work has become cliché, Rosenquist has created an amazing body of work that has continued to evolve into the 21st century. This book has a ton of paintings that you have probably never seen, and also features a lot of his preliminary sketches (drawings and collage), as well as many photos of him working in his studios, etc. Details here.

Finally, the de Kooning biography. I have already mentioned this book in an earlier post, but am including it again for anyone who may have missed it the first time around. This one won a Pulitzer Prize-- well deserved. If you have any interest at all in de Kooning or in the development of modern art in America during the second half of the 20th century, read this book-- you won't be disappointed! Extremely enlightening, thoroughly readable, with many art reproductions and photos of de Kooing over the years, in his studios etc. Info here.

I think that the Nerdrum and Desiderio books are no longer available at retail price, but both are well worth shelling out some extra money for. As of this writing, the Rosenquist is still available at retail from the Guggenheim bookstore. Todd Schorr's book is still available at retail, and the price is so low it's insane! The de Kooning is readily available under twenty bucks.

Seriously-- do yourself a major favor and pick up one or more of these wonderful books!

Friday, December 7, 2007

A new genre of art?

Students in my 2D Art classes have been working on some still life paintings. Basically, we are doing "observational" paintings-- the object is, in theory, to paint what you see as best you can. (I am working with high school students, by the way.)

The other day, a girl in my ninth grade class called me over to her table. "I'm finished. What do you want me to do now?" (Mind you, this is about three days into a two-week project.) I looked at her painting. "Um.... do you see that dark red piece of fabric that all that stuff is sitting on?" (The various objects are sitting on a number of cardboard boxes, all of which are covered with a large piece of red fabric which also is pinned up on the wall behind everything. The fabric is absent in her painting; in fact, there is no background at all-- the objects are all just floating all over the page. In red paint, she has painted the word LOVE running up the left side, and her name on the right side-- both very large-- and oh, let's not forget the two or three hearts she has also added.)

"Mmmm, yeah, I guess so........"

The objects in her painting are in totally different positions than where they are actually located.

"Why is that ball over here on the lower right side of your painting? Look up here" (I point at the ball); it is actually up there on top of that box way up here on the left. And what about all of these other objects-- NONE of them are even close to where they are supposed to be. And all you've done is outline them in different colors-- they are not even painted in. Did you even do a thumbnail sketch?"


"A small sketch." I hold up my hands, making a rectangle of about four by five inches with my thumbs and middle fingers. "You know, to determine the design or layout of your painting."

"Oh... yeah, I guess so...."

"So where IS it?"

"I dunno. In my locker. Maybe I lost it. I dunno."

"And what about sketching in your drawing on your board before you started to paint?"

"Huh? I don't know what you mean..."

"I have explained all of this repeatedly for the last three days. Okay-- listen: are you willfully ignoring my directions, or not listening, or don't you even care?" (If it seems like I am being a bit impatient, please keep in mind that his whole scenario is par for the course with this student.)

She hangs her head ever so slightly. In a quiet voice, "I guess I'm not a very good listener."

"Geez-- I guess not! So, what's up with this painting?"

She looks up and gives me a great big smile. "Well, you know, I'm just doin' it FREESTLYE!"


"Yeah, you know, freestyle!" She raises her shoulders and waves her hands in a circular motion. Another big toothy smile, eyebrows raised.

"Um.... o-kay..... you know, this is supposed to be an observational painting. You observe the setup; in other words, you LOOK at it, and then you paint it as accurately as possible. NOT FREESTLYE!!!" I let out a big sigh.

"So... you want me to do another one?"

"Well, considering that we still have over a week to go on this project, that would probably be a good idea. And this time, please do it the way it is supposed to be done. No more freestlye, okay?"


Well as you can probably guess at this point, when I came back to her table the next day, what did I see? FREESTLYE!!!

Ya gotta love it. Freestyle. I love my job!

Psychedelic/Entheogenic/Visionary Art: Luke Brown

Back in the 1960s, we used to call it psychedelic art-- some people still use that term. More recently, however, it has euphemistically been referred to as entheogenic art or visionary art. I would say that the term entheogen has become more commonly used so as to downplay the stigma of the use of psychedelic drugs; basically the terms are more or less interchangeable. Visionary art refers to psychedelic/entheogenic art, but it is a broader term that includes art that has its origins in thing such as spiritual visions, dreams, and the like. The surrealist painter Salvador Dali would be an example of a visionary artist; typically his work is more dreamlike than psychedelic. Working in the tradition of Dali is Abdul Mati Klarwein, much of whose work is more overtly psychedelic. Klarwein is most widely known for his work on the album covers of Santana's Abraxas and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Alex Grey is a contemporary visionary/entheogenic artist, who is very up front about the use of entheogens. Look for upcoming posts on Klarwein and Grey. In the meantime, I would like to present some work by an artist that I just discovered-- Luke Brown. Brown combines traditional and digital media, and creates some really striking images. From his website:

Luke Brown is an intrepid explorer, part of a new generation of visionaries recontructing the templates of culture as we know it. His art speaks of the spiritual mysteries in the human imagination. Mystical experiences, dreams, medicine journeys, and channelled lucid dialogues with the source of creativity itself, seem to guide and be guided by the colourful symmetries and living surfaces of his art. Much of his work emerges from a graceful synthesis of digital and painting mediums. Developing his work through mix and remix technologies, Luke is constantly redefining his style as a spiritual medium for growth. He is intent on mapping his hyperspatial experiences with utmost accuracy, with whichever medium seems best suited, as a form of multidimensional cartography.

For more on Luke Brown, visit his website by clicking here.


Salvia Dalinorum

Fractal Feline


Om Tat Sat

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Student art

I have been extremely busy with school, but I want to try to keep things at least somewhat lively here on my blog. I was grading some art from my 2d Art I class last night-- the assignment was to do an illustration for a Christmas/holiday card. Some of them came out quite nicely, so I thought hey-- why not put a few on my blog?

2D Art I is made up largely of 9th grade students, but I also have a few seniors that are just taking the class as an elective. Three of the pieces below are by 9th grade students; one is by a senior. Just for fun, can you tell which one is by the senior?






Friday, November 23, 2007

The Art of Illusion

Just a quick post today on something fun...

Julian Beever is an English artist who creates amazingly convincing Trompe-l'œil chalk drawings on paved surfaces such as sidewalks. His works are created using a process called amamorphosis, and create the illusion of three dimensions when viewed from the correct angle. I have received copies of his work via e-mail on more than one occasion-- I suspect that this is another one of those things that makes its way around the internet on a somewhat regular basis. That being said, I really enjoy his work. Sometimes you have to look carefully for a few moments to see what is real and what is part of the art. Typically Beever includes himself as part of the art. Some of his pieces are pretty spectacular-- I think this stuff is really fun to look at.

Dig the skeleton on the dungeon floor.

You could swear that he's actually standing on a diving board.

I received the photo below in an e-mail the other day, and it made me think of Beever's work.

This piece was created in 1918; it took 18,000 U.S. soldiers to make. I thought that this would make an interesting comparison to Beever's work. For more information on this image and how it was made, click here.

For information on the history of Trompe-l'œil, click here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Modern Art: a Re-Assessment

Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist I, 1950
Among people that are involved or interested in visual art, there is, for the most part, a general acceptance of what is typically referred to as “modern art”. We have been taught, frequently in college-level art history courses, and even in K-12 art classes that modern art is good—that it is important, and oftentimes philosophically deep. We may even feel that we are in sort of an exclusive “club”—we can look at a painting by Jackson Pollock, and know that we understand it, whereas others—the “average person” (not in the club) just don’t have a clue.

Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948

Although there has always been some modern art that I just didn’t buy into (Barnett Newman, for example), in general, I never had any real questions in my mind as to the over-all validity (or lack thereof) of modern art. However, a number of years ago (more than I care to admit!) I started reading some of the philosophical writings of Ayn Rand. Rand is perhaps most known as the author of the novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; however, she was mainly a philosopher. She created the philosophy known as Objectivism, which, in terms of metaphysics, focuses on objective reality. This is an art blog, so I don’t want to spend too much time discussing Rand’s work as a whole, but one of the things that I found interesting was her outright rejection of modern art (and modern music as well). This was the first time that I had heard of anyone really challenging the concept of modern art. It really made me stop and think… once again using Pollock as an example, I pondered about his work… was he really as great as we have been led to believe? Ultimately, after some time, I decided hey—I do like a lot of modern art, and modern music as well. (As a musician, I found Rand’s rejection of modern jazz to be just plain unacceptable—still, as with art, it did make me think about it.) Although I tend to agree with Rand on some other issues (individual rights vs. the rights of the “collective”, for example), I simply cannot accept her position on art and music. Yet this did open the door to looking at modernism in a somewhat different light.

Pharoah Sanders

As a commercial artist, I never had to worry much about philosophical issues such as “the meaning of art”, particularly in regards to my own work. I did artwork to make a living, doing illustration work for various clients—they were the ones that were determining the subject matter of my work. Work that I did on my own was largely geared towards creating “samples” to generate more work…

Then, after twenty years of commercial art, I left that field and became a high school art teacher, teaching drawing and painting—not commercial art. I had to go back to school to get my teacher certification. During my course of studies, I took a class called “Art Trends and Art Education”. The basic premise was to examine contemporary art to see what we could bring into the classroom. This premise is sound in and of itself. However, much of the focus of this course was on art that was largely conceptual or minimalist in nature. When we look at modern art over the last one hundred years or so, we can see that in most cases there is a demonstration by the artist of at least a certain amount of technical skill. Of course, this is not always the case—again, I would refer to Barnett Newman, for example. However, moving into the postmodern era, in many cases skill has become a non-issue. It has become, in some people’s minds, totally irrelevant. In the extreme, some have even moved beyond the “art object” altogether, into the realm of pure concept. Much of this work exists largely to promote a political or societal point of view, generally on the left side of the political/social spectrum.

Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998

I had some real “issues” with much of what we were looking at in the Art Trends class. Much of this work seemed to me to be old and tired, no longer avant-garde, cutting edge or what have you. Installation and minimalist art has been around for decades. Let’s move on already.

I started to do some research on other forms of and issues pertaining to contemporary art. I discovered a number of interesting things. Here are a few examples:

1. Tom Wolfe’s book The Painted Word. This book gives an excellent account of what much of modern art is really about (according to Wolfe, obviously). Wolfe is a brilliant satirist, and extremely funny as well. I highly recommend this book. Wolfe does not totally reject modern art, but he really puts a lot of it in its place.

2. The work of art critic / art historian Donald Kuspit. Kuspit has a book titled The End of Art, which is also worth looking at. Actually, I find that some of his articles are good deal more succinct and basically make the same point: much of contemporary art has gotten so far removed from what many would traditionally consider art to be, the he refers to it as non-art. Kuspit asks: what does the avant-garde look like when it is old?
Kuspit: So what lies ahead for art? Are there any signs in the current decadence of new artistic -- even esthetic -- life? Ironically, yes. What I call the New Old Masterism or New Objectivism -- to name names, the artists I have in mind, among others, are Odd Nerdrum, Vincent Desiderio, James Valerio, Jenny Saville, Paula Rego, Brenda Zlamany, Julie Heffernan and Eric Fischl (in his recent portraits) -- is an alternative to labored and lame duck avant-gardism. (from his excellent article “Going, Going Gone”)

Odd Nerdrum, The Water Protectors, 1985

3. The Art Renewal Center. This is a non-profit organization that exists to revive the standards of craftsmanship and excellence of the old masters. They see modern art as restricting and in fact debilitating excellence in art. The ARC promotes masters past and present, and also provides information and links to an increasing number of art schools and ateliers that promote traditional skills in art.
Although I do not reject modern art, as the ARC does, I am very encouraged to see what appears to be an upswing in terms of a return to the importance of skill in art.

Christopher Pugliese, Ulysses and the Sirens, 2003

4. Not all “postmodern” art is necessarily in the conceptualist/minimalist camp. Kuspit’s New Old Masters would have to be considered to be postmodern; the same is true of the art that is referred to as Lowbrow Art, Contemporary Pop, or Pop Surrealism. (The term “Lowbrow Art” was coined by artist Robert Williams, as a satirical comment on the “highbrow art” that is so loved by the “art intelligensia”.) Many of the Lowbrow artists come from an illustration background, and are highly skilled. Interestingly, the origins of this style of work come from things like California hot rod culture, underground comics, cartoons, etc. Incidentally, the magazine Juxtapoz, which features a lot of this art, is now the second-best selling art magazine in America, outselling the long-established Art in America, self-styled arbiter of all that is essential in contemporary art.

Todd Schorr, The Spectre of Cartoon Appeal, 2000

So where does all of this leave us? While modern art is still very much in vogue, there appears to be an increasing number of people that are yearning for something else. Whether it is a return to academic painting, as promoted by the ARC, New Old Masterism, or Lowbrow Art, it would appear that modern art has become old.

Basically, at this point, pretty much anything goes in art. Although this may be a source of confusion as to what constitutes “good art” (or even art itself) at this point in time, I find the extremely wide range of work that is being done today to be tremendously exciting, and I for one, am also very happy to see a renewed interest in art that is based in traditional art skills.

(For more of my thoughts on this, see some of my previous posts.)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cthulhu fhtagn!

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn". Translated (from the Necronomicon), this means "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming"... it continues... "yet He shall rise and His kingdom shall cover the Earth."

Cthulhu is a fictional being created by horror/science fiction/fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Also a Lovecraft creation, the Necronomicon has become so ubiquitous in horror fiction, film, and mythology, that many people believe it actually exists. Various versions of it have been published; you can even find it at Barnes and Noble or Borders.

I would like to feature three paintings of the great Cthulhu. The first, by illustrator Raymond Bayliss, is from the dustjacket of the hardcover version of Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror and Others, published by Arkham House. Notice the way that Cthulhu is nonchalantly dropping an unfortunate soul from his left hand, and the tiny figures in the foreground fleeing in horror!

(As usual, click on images to zoom in.)

The next two paintings are by illustrator Michael Komarck.

Lovecraft's fiction was very atmospheric, and has been particularly difficult to translate into film; a number of really bad movies based on Lovecraft stories have been made. A couple of them, Re-Animator and From Beyond are kind of cool in a cheesy sort of way, but Lovecraft's stories tend to work better and be more horrific when you just picture things in your mind as opposed to seeing them on screen. Really, I think, the same often goes for artwork of Lovecraftian entities such as Cthulhu. In other words, this is a is a pretty good example of the notion of "less is more". That being said, these paintings are pretty darn cool!

You may have gathered that I am something of a Lovecraft fan. Let me put it this way: in 1990, temporarily low on cash, I sold one of my guitars to finance a trip to Providence, Rhode Island to attend the H. P. Lovecraft Centennial Conference-- I have never regretted it for a minute!

Cthulhu fhtagn!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Printmaking Class

My friend Les requested some more original art, and I had been thinking about doing this anyway, so here goes...

In 2001, after twenty years of working as an illustrator in Detroit, I got a job teaching two-dimensional art at a new charter high school for students with an interest in the fine and performing arts: Arts Academy in the Woods, located in suburban Detroit. Part of the deal was that I had to get my teaching certification, so I enrolled in the art education program at Wayne State University.

One of the classes I took was a printmaking "methods" class. The purpose of methods classes is to teach different techniques within a given medium, and how to structure appropriate lesson plans for your students. The printmaking methods class was taught by Dr. Lorraine Ross, who was also chair of the art ed department at that time. Dr. Ross is an excellent and inspiring teacher, and I thoroughly enjoyed the class. I had done some linocuts back when I was very young, but had not done any printmaking since then, so this was a very nice change of pace for me.

We did a number of different types of prints, but I had the best results with relief printing. We also did some intaglio prints, but I was not 100% happy with how they came out so you will not be seeing them here!

(You can click on the images below to zoom in.)

This first print is a "glue print"-- you draw on a piece of cardboard, using white glue. Once it is fully dried, you roll ink on it and print it. This is a great project for younger students, but I have also used it as an "activity" for a 2D Art unit in a humanities class that I teach. Actually, I think that this is just a pretty cool way to make a print! (My good friend Joe M. was the model for this piece.)

Little Joe, 8" x 10"

This next piece is a "reduction" print. In a reduction print, you print multiple colors using the same template from which more material is cut away (reduced) for each successive color, revealing the colors underneath. (A template is the surface you are printing from, such as a piece of wood, linoleum, metal, or in this case, a piece of Styrofoam cut from a tray that some meat was packaged in.)

Untitled self-portrait, 6" x 8"

This print was made from a material called E-Z Cut (a.k.a. Soft-Kut, etc.) This is a good material for students to use for their first block print-- a lot easier to cut than linoleum. This piece was based on a short story I read a number of years ago in a horror anthology about a succubus that took over a small town. Unfortunately, I can't remember the author or the name of the story.

Succubus, 4" x 4.5"

This linocut was selected for the postcard that was sent out for the Art Education Spring Show at Wayne State University (2002).

The Dream, 8" x 10", linocut

The last print I would like to show you is a collagraph. Collagraph comes from the French la colle, which means glue. In a collagraph print, materials are glued to the surface of the template-- cardboard, string, whatever-- and then it is inked and printed. For this piece I am also showing a photo of the template (prior to inking it), as well as the reference photo that I used.

486, 8" x 10"

Finally, here are a couple of sketches that I made (some time after the class was over), intending to make linocuts from them. To date, these pieces have not been cut or printed, but hopefully one of these days, I will get around to it. These are portraits of my parents; they were drawn with digital pastel using Painter (similar to Photoshop) and a Wacom tablet.

Roger, 8" x 10"

Mary Jane, 8" x 10"