Posts in Category: Illustration

Harvest: Avocados

Harvest: Avocados

Harvest: Avocados

3rd of 4 in the Harvest series – avocados, cut open to show off the green insides and shiny pits. Same approach as the others: start at the bottom and slowly develop a pattern along the way.

These are made with Prismacolor colored pencils, and on this one I used seven colors total: green and yellow for the insides (blended with ivory), grape purple and grass green for the pebbly skins, and brown, dark brown, and yellow (blended with ivory) for the pits. It took a try or two to figure out the right appearance for the pitted halves.

Harvest: Blueberries

Harvest: Blueberries

Harvest: Blueberries

Another fruit in the Harvest series – this time, a little pile of blueberries. This one’s more of an experiment in subtle patterns within a dense texture. I varied the amounts of blues and purples, and tucked in the stem area here and there to aim for something random-looking but balanced. I also made the front/bottom area a higher contrast and slightly bigger so it would give a proper sense of perspective.

Like the persimmons, I started on the bottom and gradually worked my way up. It got a little tricky to avoid a pattern that was too regular. Some areas started to get that fishscale-like regularity, and I found the best way to avoid that was to jump to different parts of the image while laying out the initial blueberry outlines. I think the hand (and eye) tend towards patterns that are both (1) regular in frequency and (2) trailing off in whatever direction you write. It’s the same issue with writing sentences on whiteboards, though (annoyingly) it can happen even on a tiny scale like this. Sometimes the best thing to do is to keep interrupting and switch to something different frequently to insert the randomness yourself.

Harvest: Persimmons

Harvest: Persimmons

Harvest: Persimmons

Here’s a bright little drawing of persimmons from memory. I drew this with Prismacolor pencils to experiment with blending techniques to replicate the muted sheen on the fruit. To get this look, I lightly filled in layer of orange and red and/or brown around the edges, and then pressed hard to blend a peach color for the sheen and orange for the rest. The leaves are a mix of two shades of green, ivory, and a pinkish brown.

I started with the fruits at the bottom and completed each one before moving to the next because I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to add something else in here (a pixie in hiding? a knit fruit? a glass ball? make one float up?). I briefly contemplated an Escher-like transformation of the leaves into birds. I ultimately opted to fill it in as you see because I liked the visual rhythm.

I’d started this illustration a while back during a Two Buck Tuesday event at Kaleid Gallery, and felt compelled to finish it now that we’re well into fall. I’ll be taking it full circle and bringing it back to Kaleid for the annual HARK! Holiday Show and Sale in about a month.

(re)Birth of a Nation

(re)Birth of a Nation • 16.5" x 13.5"

(re)Birth of a Nation • 16.5″ x 13.5″

I created this piece for the recent Alternative Facts show at Works/San José. This is a reaction to the Trump and GOP campaigns hinting at violence against those who disagree with them, and feigning ignorance about what they promoted. I used the visual language of the intertitles from a silent movie, The Birth of a Nation, for two reasons: because of its melodramatic emoting, and because of its role as white supremacist propaganda.

The Birth of a Nation (1915) by D.W. Griffith is remembered for both its dramatic and film innovations as well as its demonization of black people and promotion of white supremacy. This film stereotyped black people as unintelligent and sexually aggressive. It showed the KKK as a heroic force fighting against their participation in society from voting to mixed-race relationships. While there were protests and calls for censorship, this distorted story was also adopted by the KKK as a recruiting tool.

The tactics of urgently stoking fear of “others” incites violence and continue to be used by Donald Trump and the Republican party that supports him. These vague threats justify policies that are actively targeting African-Americans, muslims, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ people.

“I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will.”
Trump at a press conference reacting to Black Lives Matter protestors taking over at a Bernie Sanders rally – August 9, 2015

“Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Trump at a rally in Birmingham, AL – Nov 22, 2015

“I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks.”
Trump at a rally in Las Vegas, NV – Feb. 22, 2016

“They used to treat them very, very rough, and when they protested once they would not do it again so easily.” At press conference: “The audience hit back and that’s what we need a little more of.”
Trump at a rally in Lafayette, NC – March 11, 2016

“I’m just expressing my opinion. What have I said that is wrong?”
Trump in an interview with Chuck Todd, Meet the Press (NBC) – March 13, 2016

One year later, in response to provably false allegations used to support policy changes:

“So what have I said that was wrong?”
Interview with Michael Scherer, Time Magazine – March 22, 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding series

All four Peace, Love, and Understanding illustrations

All four Peace, Love, and Understanding illustrations

I made a few more three-panel illustrations with the phrase “Peace, Love, and Understanding” spelled out across tattoos. Not too much story on these; I mostly picked it as an excuse to draw different people and to think through the meaning of tattoos. “Peace” and “Love” are pretty easy to incorporate into tattoos…but “Understanding”? Much more difficult. The best I could do on that one was either including it in a longer phrase, or taking the education angle. It was getting quite challenging to not repeat tattoo locations too.

Peace, Love, and Understanding I • 2016

Peace, Love, and Understanding I • 2016

Peace, Love, and Understanding II • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding II • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding III • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding III • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding IV • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding IV • 2017

 

Bel Bacio Featured Artist for February

What you see when you walk into Bel Bacio this month

What you see when you walk into Bel Bacio this month

I just finished hanging a dozen pieces of art at Bel Bacio coffee shop in San Jose’s Little Italy. There’s an entrance wall and a front room with three walls (and a window), so I chose a mix of paintings, illustration, and prints for each of the four walls. I matched nearby colors wherever possible and grouped them together in four themes:


The "pleasant outing" wall

The “pleasant outing” wall

The "working man" wall

The “working man” wall

The "focus on photography" wall

The “focus on photography” wall

Trilogy of Shadow Puppets

These frames reminded me of the soot around a fireplace so I created these three illustrations of shadow puppets. I mostly picked these animals because I thought the hand shapes were interesting. Now that I see them together, I realized they’re all animals in the American wilderness. I imagine them as part of a tale told at a remote cabin in the woods.

Shadow Pupper: Deer • 10" x 12" • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Deer • 10″ x 12″ • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Eagle • 12" x 10" • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Eagle • 12″ x 10″ • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Wolf • 10" x 12" • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Wolf • 10″ x 12″ • ink and charcoal

Prior Art: Mixing

Technology: Mixing

Technology: Mixing

Mixing is the last of seven technologies I’ve explored in Prior Art: analog media manipulation and vintage virtual reality.

Steve Plans the Transition • 18" x 24" • acrylic on canvas

Steve Plans the Transition • 18″ x 24″

Steve Plans the Transition

Steve Johnson // SoundCloud: @ByDisgn

“Two turntables and a microphone” are the classic setup for a live DJ. During songs, the DJ will gauge the mood of the crowd and queue up potential next songs. Albums provide a richness in sound quality but also unique ways to blend songs together through scratching and beat matching.

In addition to commercially-available albums, DJs may use white label albums: limited runs of songs often used for house music and hip hop. Sometimes these albums are made to test crowd response for tracks that aren’t yet released to buy or missing the proper clearance for samples.

In the early days of hip hop and freestyle improvisation, most performances only occurred live (instead of in a studio). Between performances, mixtapes (or party tapes) provided a way to spread their music through clubs and parties. DJs and club proprietors often record their own to sell to promote their work.

Mixtape Confessional • 8" x 10" • colored pencil and ink on paper

Mixtape Confessional • 8″ x 10″

Mixtape Confessional

The greater availability of cassettes and high-quality home recording equipment put music recording within reach for consumers who could create their own mixes from the radio, other tapes, or albums. Private mixtapes are forms of personal expression, created to capture a particular time or mood and intended for a specific audience.

Handwriting the song list on the paper insert for the cassette was often just as important as picking the songs themselves.

Mix It Up • 7" x 5" • colored pencil on paper

Mix It Up • 7″ x 5″

Mix It Up

The unifying thread of a good mixtape can be almost anything.

It can be familiar to many with popular songs or to a few with indie selections. It can be obscure to challenge the listener or local for surprising references.
It can have a steady flow or choose to change it. It might ramp up, it might ramp down, or it might fluctuate.
It can set a mood: red up, victorious, irty, cheery, introspective, calm.
It can fit a particular spot: the energy of a dance or the chill of a club, the excitement of a race or the reflection of a dive bar, the relaxation of a beach or the quiet of a bookstore.

Whatever it is, it captures a time, place, and mood for the person listening to it.

Prior Art: Reel-to-Reel

Technology: Reel-to-Reel

Technology: Reel-to-Reel

Reel-to-Reel is the sixth of seven technologies I’ve explored in Prior Art: analog media manipulation and vintage virtual reality.

Chris Edits the Clips • 24" x 18" • acrylic on canvas

Chris Edits the Clips • 24″ x 18″

Chris Edits the Clips

“Software has eaten music production. It’s gotten much cheaper, more dematerialized, and extremely powerful. And it’s become sterile, automated, and over-produced. My work tries to make digital music seem analog, to blur the 1s and 0s with waves and voltages, noise and decay. When I see these Old School reel-to-reel tapes I hear the room noise hissing like electric snakes on a Summer lawn, the rich magnetic warmth of tape head transduction, and the slight aperiodic wobble of the motors resolutely unknowable in the face of unyielding digital perfection.”
Chris Arkenberg // @chris23 // harryselassie.bandcamp.com

Early audio used cylinders or disks to capture recording, until the middle of the 20th century when advances in tape recording provided a higher fidelity than ever before. Recordings were primarily made onto tape until the advent of digital recording. Tape recording allowed performers, who previously could only perform live, to record and edit their shows. It also enabled producers to create multi-track recordings where individual performers could record their parts and the producer could have greater control over how they combined into the final recording.

Recording studios used reel-to-reel tapes to capture individual performances and layer sounds. It also enabled editors to include sound effects like laugh tracks. In addition to the dedicated recording studios, radio stations would often have their own sound recording and mixing equipment as well. This was used for recording interviews and live performances at the station. It was also a way to create advertisements or underwriting spots that were pre-recorded and could be played between songs

True-to-Life Fidelity • 10" x 8" • colored pencil, marker, and ink on paper

True-to-Life Fidelity • 10″ x 8″

True-to-Life Fidelity

Advances in tape technology were a closely-guarded secret during World War II. German engineers had accidentally discovered a much higher-fidelity form of recording than previously thought possible, and this was used to allow Hitler to broadcast supposedly “live” speeches from other cities. At the end of the war, U.S. Army Signal Corps member Jack Mullin came across two Magnetophon machines at a radio station in Frankfurt that he brought back home and reverse-engineered to develop the machines for commercial use.

One early adopter was Bing Crosby, who was a popular radio star who had grown weary of a live recording schedule. He saw the potential in pre-recording shows and promptly invested in the technology, becoming the first American performer to use it. Further development led to stereo and multitrack audio recorders. One of the first musicians to use those was Les Paul who also invented the electric guitar. These two inventions set the stage for the explosion of rock and roll music.

The Art of Splicing • 7" x 5" • Dymo labels and colored pencil on paper

The Art of Splicing • 7″ x 5″

The Art of Splicing

Editing a reel-to-reel recording is a manual process of cutting and combining tape. Some machines included tape splicers directly on them, but editing could also be done simply with a steady hand, a sharp blade, and tape.

The angle of the cut affects the nature of the transition. A “hard cut” is a strict transition from one tape to another where the tape is cut at a 90-degree angle. For a softer transition, editors use a “soft cut” of 45 degrees or a “super soft cut” of 30 degrees.

Prior Art: Transfers

Technology: Transfers

Technology: Transfers

Transfers are the fifth of seven technologies I’ve explored in Prior Art: analog media manipulation and vintage virtual reality.

Deb Trims the Screen • 18" x 24" • acrylic on canvas

Deb Trims the Screen • 18″ x 24″

Deb Trims the Screen

My art/graphic design education began when Macs were quaint little upright boxes, and most layout work required Exacto knives and hot wax. Ah, those were the days. This work is faster and easier now, but part of me misses the meditative physicality of this work.
Deb Aoki // debaoki.com

Just as typesetting made book creation more efficient by eliminating the need to write each one by hand, graphic designers and illustrators have also sought technologies to make their results more predictable and efficient. Transfers provided these shortcuts for fonts, clip art, and patterns.

One type of transfer is the “dry transfer” of rub-on (rubdown) screens: decals applied with pressure. These are used by placing them upside down on the paper and applying pressure by carefully burnishing the letter (or art) the artist wishes to use.

Another type is screentones: printed sticker-like sheets that artists cut pieces from and stick directly onto their art. Companies like Zip-A-Tone, Chart-Pak, and Letraset created halftone hatches, dots, and lines to provide texture for black and white art.

Comic artists have relied on screentones as a way to add depth and texture to black and white illustration. Screentones can range from simple dot and line patterns to action-evoking speed lines to elaborate backgrounds of stars, foliage, or cityscapes. Precisely trimming screentones and aligning their patterns is a skill unto itself.

Year 24 Group (Incomplete) • 8" x 10" • colored pencil, ink and screentone on paper

Year 24 Group (Incomplete) • 8″ x 10

Year 24 Group (Incomplete)

In Japan, comics (manga) have a large and diverse reader base that includes comics created for a range of ages. A group of female artists in the 1970s created manga aimed at women that explored complex emotional themes in a variety of genres. Though not an official group, they were dubbed the “Year 24 Group” since many of them were born in 1949 (Showa Year 24 in the Japanese calendar).

Traditionally, comics are drawn on Bristol board with blue pencils since the blue marks will not be seen when it is scanned for reproduction. Screentones are a quick way to add texture and depth for something even as simple as a gray gradient.

Quicksilver Ambition • 7" x 5" • ink on paper

Quicksilver Ambition • 7″ x 5″

Quicksilver Ambition

In 1976, Dean Morris (then 16) created a hand-drawn font and submitted xeroxed copies to the Letraset company in the hope they might be interested in it.

“Letraset must have wanted it real fast (fifties nostalgia and disco were WHITE HOT then, remember), because they did the finished art themselves at 5” high (they can’t have known my age, maybe they had no confidence in my technical talent).”

Many of these pre-digital fonts were converted to digital, so Dean Morris’s Quicksilver lives on to evoke the disco era.