(Art?)book of the Day: Counting with Wayne Thiebaud

Okay, this isn’t a traditional artbook, per se. I mean, most art books cost upwards of $60, have 100+ pages, and tend to come in at above a 1st grade reading level. This book meets none of those criteria, but, yknow, Wayne Thiebaud. ‘Nuff said.

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It’s exactly as the title suggests

This book is just too adorable to pass up. So, even though I have managed to reach the age of 23 with the ability to count to 10 (still working up to 20- I’ll get there,) I still love this simple little book.

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It’s kind of funny how well Thiebaud’s work fits in with such a childish concept. I call him a “painter’s painter” all the time, as the subtleties in his approach to everyday objects tend to be more readily appreciated by fellow painters. But obviously, his bright color palette, along with his playful subject matter totally fits with a children’s book concept.

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*spoiler alert*

Thinking back, I realize that what I probably most remember from my favorite books as a kid is the artwork (I’ve talked before about my love for Leo Lionni’s charmingly simple  illustrations in particular.) What better way to introduce children to amazing artists than through a counting lesson? I don’t need to count to ten to know that Wayne Thiebaud is number one in my book. (Sorry, that was terrible.)

Artbook of the Day: Vision and Revision

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Since I love playing with monotypes, and since I am so enamored with everything by Wayne Thiebaud, I immediately fell in love with this book while browsing amazon. Not many people know that Thiebaud actually has made a sizable body of work in printmaking.

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Wayne Thiebaud, Sardines, watercolor over hard-ground etching, 1990

It’s interesting to see his trademark subject matter and aesthetic translated into this medium-  a medium that is in many ways similar to painting. Interestingly, part of the “revision” of these works becomes apparent as Thiebaud works into the prints with other mediums, like pastel and watercolor:

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Wayne Theibaud, Six Candied Apples, watercolor over hard-ground and drypoint etching, 1990

The forward, written by Thiebaud, starts:

“I think the most compelling part of drawing and painting is the continuing thrill of learning how they can be made. Working on prints is an extension of this constant search.”

It’s this clear enthusiasm for the formal, raw process of painting that makes Thiebaud so easy for me to admire. A true painter’s painter… Who also makes amazing prints.

Ghosts of Painters Past

I’ve been reading a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and one particularly salient point I found (among many) was this:

“Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you can experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life.”

Which also reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my painting professors, where he essentially said that “you have to live in your own time. You can’t be Monet.”

This is incredibly valuable advice. It’s normal to be a student or developing artist and to have artistic heroes- people who you look to and just think, “wow, if I could paint like that…” The problem comes when you essentially try to replicate work from a certain artist or era with the intent that it all but pass for one of those works. There are plenty of painters out there, for instance, who fancy themselves to be Monet-esque impressionists. But their work, being produced in the present and therefore divorced from the context that the original impressionists painted in, just looks like a cheap imitation- and that’s because it is.

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The Impressionist’s work was highly innovative in their time because from their cultural context, they were solving a problem and presenting something new to the world. They actually took incredible creative risks in doing so. People today who try to imitate these artists (or artists from any other historical period,) however, are merely piggybacking off of their innovation and banking on the nostalgic feelings that some retain for the group. As Bayles and Orland go on to say, “There’s a difference between meaning that is embodied and meaning that is referenced.”

Admiring artists from the past is completely natural, and a great way to see different approaches to solving formal or even thematic issues. And I know and understand the whole Joseph Campbell, “nothing is truly original” thing and all that. But taking bits from the past and mixing them with your own personal point of view and painting style derived from the actual, present world around you is much more worthwhile and brave than just chasing after the ghost of Monet.

 

Artbook of the Day: The Art of Kiki’s Delivery Service

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Ah, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Along with My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki is certainly my favorite childhood movie. I remember seeing a commercial for it either on TV or on a VHS (remember those?) and immediately demanding that we go out and rent it from the video store (remember those?!) My parents would let my sister and I take turns choosing a movie, and every time (to my sister’s annoyance) I chose Kiki– until, of course, my parents just bought me the VHS for my birthday since they’d already paid the cost of the movie many times over in rental fees by then.

So, naturally I own the Art of Kiki’s Delivery Service book from Viz. It’s filled with beautiful concept work, sketches, and commentary from director Hayao Miyazaki and others on the development of the film.

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I totally recognized the above painting from its fully realized use in the film:

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There are also some interesting early explorations of Kiki’s appearance:

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This drawing was one of my faves:

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Looking back, I can see why Kiki intrigued me so much. The fully realized female characters (including the protagonist,) the story of being on one’s own for the first time and finding one’s independence, and the fact that the whole “teen witch” thing is really just a metaphor for being an artist. Kiki has a seemingly innate talent for flying on her broomstick, but gets into a funk and loses her ability. She confides in her artist friend Ursula, and realizes that she needs to find “her own inspiration” to fly. Of course, she eventually finds this inspiration and gets her “powers” back in the end through self-discovery and an act of bravery. I think it’s great that a “kids” movie explored something so complex. And it’s no surprise, being an artist myself now, that I was drawn to such a story!

Artbook of the Day: The Art of Princess Mononoke

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I’ve cultivated an impressive, and to my knowledge, complete, collection of all of the fabulously hefty Viz artbooks on Hayao Miyazaki’s films. However, the artbook for my favorite Miyazaki film, Princess Mononoke, long eluded me because it was never released to the US. That gaping hole in my life was finally filled when my wonderful sister brought me home a copy after travelling to Japan, purchased from the Ghibli museum no less!

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I of course love all of Miyazaki’s films, but I consider Mononoke to be his masterpiece. It just tackles so much from environmentalism, war and pacifism, human brutality, and just… life. Being alive. Heavy stuff, but it’s all told in such a masterful and natural way that I can’t help but choose it as my favorite.

The book obviously has gorgeous images of the hand-painted backgrounds featured in the film…

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… While also, of course, featuring things like character sketches and other preliminary images:

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The only downside to me is that it’s all in Japanese, and my 3 years of studying the language in high school has pretty much dissipated by now. But it’s fine, the images are the real meat of it anyways.

In making Mononoke, Miyazaki has said that he had “started to think about what a villain really was… It was hard to make a villain that really deserved to be defeated; at least, I couldn’t do it.” And it’s true. There is no pure “good” and “evil” in his world- only people with differing motivations. It is this sophisticated and nuanced view of humanity that makes Mononoke a timeless classic.

 

***All Images are my own crappy ones taken of the book

Art Book of the Day: Wayne Thiebaud, A Retrospective

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I finally got my hands on this somewhat rare art book from Acquavella showcasing some beautiful new and previously unpublished works by Wayne Thiebaud. As you all know, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of his work. This is also my first nice, hardcover art book of Thiebaud paintings! It’s one thing to see the works online, but there’s something about holding a book of high quality reproductions in your hands that brings the whole experience just a little closer to seeing them in person.

I’m a huge fan of Thiebaud’s recent work, which includes gorgeously lush, vibrant (and kind of perspectively ambiguous!) landscapes:

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Wayne Thiebaud- Layered Ridge , 2010, Oil on Canvas.

As I said, the book features previously unpublished work both from Thiebaud’s own collection and that of his wife, Betty Jean!

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This is a cigar box that he painted for her as a gift! D’awww.

And that’s just about the only thing about Thiebaud that’s shocking- he’s so normal. Besides his extraordinary status as a masterful painter, he seems like a normal guy, with a middle class upbringing and now a comfortable, married life. No dancing on tables at the Chelsea Hotel, not dropping acid at studio 54- just a normal, well-adjusted guy. He speaks delightfully candidly about his own work as well. The book includes some snippets from interviews, and in one Thiebaud remarks how he isn’t interested in the commercial status of his subjects (like the pop painters) but simply saw a slice of pie as “a triangle on a round plate.” Maybe it’s this normalcy and candid nature of his that has largely kept him out of the limelight, in the sense that he has never achieved say, Richter-level status of celebrity.

And he’s still going! A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that yes, he’s still alive and, yes, he’s still painting away and showing regularly. John Wilmerding, in the forward to the book, aptly states “In a contentious, cynical, and chaotic age his art brings to the table optimism, humor, and order.”

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Wayne Thiebaud, reservoir and orchard, 2001.

Artbook of the Day: The Cream of Tank Girl

I have  to admit, I’m not cool enough to have discovered Tank Girl, the zany British comic by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett about a foul-mouthed, rebellious young woman’s adventures through a post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland in, what else, a tricked-out tank, through the original comics when they circulated in Deadline (mostly because I wasn’t exactly born yet.) Instead I discovered her through the kind of lovably campy, but mostly just awesomely bad Tank Girl movie starring Lori Petty and, inexplicably, Naomi Watts:

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And yes, that is ICE-T behind them playing a Kangaroo mutant.

Despite the movie’s general suckiness, I fell in love with the character and knew I had to check out the source material. Tank Girl is a colorful, wacky, anarchistic celebration of everything to love about comic books. It’s funny, gratuitous in it’s violence and humor, and colorful. The often ridiculous story-lines, pulpy style, and post-apocalyptic setting make for an addictively zany reading experience. Of course, the appeal is carried heavily on the shoulders of the titular heroine, now an icon in her own right. She basically embodies all the nihilist, childlike fun we secretly imagine we’d have in fantasizing about a post-apocalypse.

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The art book includes the original covers/special illustrations, all that really make you appreciate Hewlett’s artistry, allowing you to see how his incredibly recognizable illustration style has developed over the years to what we see today with Gorillaz:

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The book also includes some little gems like sketches and concept work:

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and pre-published cover illustrations:

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I like these kinds of things that take you “behind the scenes” to see just how much planning, skill, and time creating these illustrations requires. We even get to see some storyboards that Hewlett himself made for the film which, unfortunately, never saw the light of day:

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So, if you have any interest in seeing the gorgeous illustrations of one of the great talents in comics, or if you just have an interest in illustration in general, I’d recommend you to indulge in the oddly empowering zaniness that is Tank Girl.

In Defense of Silly Art Books

I love art books. There are some seriously fancy ones out there (with similarly fancy price tags) and I love dreaming about getting them whenever I’m in a museum gift shop or something. And I own some pretty nice art books with fancy bindings, glossy photos, and interesting anecdotes about some amazing artists’ life. But you know what? I love looking at “fluffy” beginners art books as well, even though my skills are pretty well past the beginner stage.

This lady clearly knows how to party

This book was given to me by my aunt a few years ago. Not a huge fan of this lady’s art. But I love leafing through this book because it has so many tips and tricks to painting different subjects that, even if they may seem obvious, I don’t necessarily think to do when on the spot.

Start with the fragile color! GENIUS!

Even though I don’t do cheesy paintings of flower pots and “old masters” style still lives, I still just love looking at the process that she goes through, even if I don’t personally find the end result aesthetically pleasing. Books like this are useful in gathering things to add to my mental checklist when approaching certain subjects, which is always useful. For instance, I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed on my own that it’s useful to think of most flowers as conical in shape, to help with establishing value. Sometimes it’s good to review the fundamentals even if you’re at an intermediate skill level. I just think of it like Olympic athletes doing ordinary stretches/warmups that we all do before a workout before doing their superhuman feats.

Even though I know color theory and color mixing, I still love thumbing through books about them.This book is really useful in that sometimes I have a painting that needs a little something. Some sort of color to really bring it to life, or that will tie disparate colors together, etc- only I can’t seem to retrieve that color from my own mental catalog. In those cases, I whip out this book.

It basically just gives a bunch of color combos and how to achieve them. It also talks about how to mix specific colors and how to work with them (working with grays, greens, etc.) Sometimes it takes looking at a color on a page to realize that it’s exactly what a painting needs.

Sometimes we forget really basic techniques- they sort of get shuffled to the bottom of the toolbox. When that happens to me, I can just look through one of these books and be reminded “oh yeah! I can do this!” The endless possibilities that art making provides means that locating that special something, whether color, technique, or approach, can sometimes be difficult to find in our own cluttered minds. And sometimes, all one needs is a cheesy art book to retrieve that special “something.”