December 27, 2009

Masterfull Illustrations

I think many people would agree that of all the gifts they get at Christmas, there's always the one that is the special one: the one that becomes the treasure for that year. In our house, we keep gift giving simple and my special gifts are, usually, books. I love books. I hate shopping but can spend hours and hours browsing in bookstores and I love getting books for Christmas. The promise of undiscovered worlds.

This year, my treasure is a new collection of illustrations by an absolutely incredible artist: Scott McKowen. There's very little information about him available on the web and this might be because it's really difficult to capture the work he does properly in web resolution. He works primarily in scratchboard and his illustrations, mostly theatrical posters and book covers, have the look of engravings and are fantastically rich in detail and nuance. The man is a master of light and shadow and uses them to great effect along with, sometimes, a quirky manipulation of perspective. I can certainly learn a lot about artistic license from this guy.

There is an agency who represents him you can see some of the work there. And there's info on his book, including a glimpse at some sample pages, here.

Finally, here's just a sample of the work:


In my humble opinion though, if you're at all interested in fine illustration, get the book. I've been reading it slowly, it's like letting a piece of good dark chocolate melt in the mouth, and relishing each page. The book is divided into sections, by theatrical posters and book illustrations, with each full-page image (did I say the images are incredible? ) accompanied by a great write-up of how it came to life: what the motivation was, what the artistic process was. I find that kind of stuff absolutely enthralling.

There's also a good explanation of Scott's work with scratchboard as his medium at the end of the book. Scratchboard! Who knew?

December 21, 2009

Where has the Christmas spirit gone?

So here we are, three days away from Christmas.

I've had my Christmas lunch at work (in fact I've had two of them); I've been to two Christmas parties. I've done some shopping in malls all decked out for the season, and, although we generally keep our gift giving frugal and don't go in for all the hype, I have bought some presents and wrapped them.

Our outside lights are up and so is, as of yesterday, the tree.

I've baked,


and set the nativity scene my mother hand-drew and put together 4o years ago, up on the bookshelf as usual:


And, finally, today I sent out some cards that had been sitting around for a couple of weeks and I didn't have the drive to send until now:


They're not the ones I was working on, the strawberries in the snow, because the same thing that happened last year and the year before happened again. After all the work I put into carving the image and printing it, I didn't end up liking it when it was time to make it into cards. So, in a panic, I made up some new ones, from some stamps I'd carved a few years ago for other things. They turned out ok I guess.

Anyway, I've done some Christmassy things so far right? I should be feeling some sort of Christmas buzz right about now right? Yet I'm not. I'm doing all these things, going through the motions, and that's exactly what it is: going through the motions. Yesterday I even listened to CBC radio's Joy to the World broadcast for as much of the day as possible but not even that felt right.

And it seems I'm not the only one to feel this way; quite a few people I've talked to are experiencing the same lack of Christmas spirit. Is it the economy that's to blame? Or is it just that, as we try to make Christmas politically correct and try to strip it of any symbolism offensive to other cultures, we end up stripping away the very heart of it? Do we make it so generic that it becomes bland and meaningless? I have such a hard time with the whole "season's greetings" thing. What does that mean, really? Surely, there's got to be a way for us to acknowledge and respect the spirituality in other non-Christian cultures without having to obliterate the essence of the Christian one at this time of year? Too many questions, no good answers.

Nevermind, maybe it'll all fall into place at the last minute. So, on this night of winter solstice, I wish you all a merry, merry Christmas and I thank you, most sincerely, for dropping in from time to time to read my ramblings. Cheers...

December 06, 2009

The Power of Artistic License

One of the things I have a little trouble with, from time to time, is giving myself the permission to use my artistic license. I know that most artists, even when their subject is a real place or object, adapt it to their own vision in order to improve the composition. They leave out certain aspects of a landscape, like telegraph poles or road signs for example, to make their final image more balanced, more harmonious, etc. Once again though, it comes down to the difference between knowing something and really knowing it.

So even though I know other artists take appropriate liberties with their subject matter, I still feel compelled, whenever my work is based on a real-life image, to try represent that image as completely as possible. And, when I do eliminate some random piece of the original reference, I feel almost like I'm cheating. I've gotta get over that and, print by print, I'm working on it.

Take this Hummingbird Vine print for example. In my original photo, the maroon gutter that runs underneath the vine showed up among the leaves:


The whole time I was planning out this print I also planned to include that bit of gutter in my version. It was that little bit of maroon that I was going to add today. Here's the actual area in my print:


And here it is with the maroon ink added in (I kept some maroon ink from last week just so I could save myself some mixing time today):



You can probably see where this is going. Even though the maroon was meant to tie into the window trim, and is the same colour and all that, when added to the print, it just looked misplaced. It's not detailed enough, it doesn't look like a gutter, so it just didn't seem to make any sense, stuck as it was among the foliage. I didn't like it.


So, artistic license in hand, I went back to mixing colours. I figured that a green, even if it turns out slightly different than the other greens already in the print, will still make more sense than the maroon. It may not be accurate to the original image, but leaving out the maroon will make for greater harmony overall. Amazingly, as if it were meant to be that way, the green I mixed up matches the mid-tone green I already have in the print.


I burnished by hand today, no sense in hauling the press to the kitchen for such a small area, and it's a good thing it was my last colour. The MDF block had become warped to the point where I had to struggle to get my registration right. Here's the final print; not too different from last week's image really.


I loved doing this print, even though I had issues with the MDF. But I'm glad to be done for now, I really need to get my Christmas cards finished off.