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

Back to Watercolor

Lately I’ve been back to doing a lot of small, quick abstract watercolor paintings. I think I need this to wind down after months of working on super structured and planned oil paintings in school. It feels good to let loose for a bit with a low cost, low risk medium. If a painting doesn’t work out, I have no problem throwing it away and starting a new one (something much more difficult to do after investing in a canvas painting.)

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 Untitled, Watercolor and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014

I’ve been enjoying using mixed media, like pencil, stamps, and crayon, to add texture and visual interest.

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Untitled, Watercolor, graphite, and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014

And I even managed to stumble upon some abstract flowers! Totally unlike me, but I like how they turned out nonetheless.

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Red Posies, Megan Koth.  Prints and more of this available at my Redbubble store!

Doing these little watercolors has always been a kind of palette cleanser for me to do between big paintings. I see it as the painting equivalent of doing stretches before a big race.

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:

Image Via Tankgirl.info

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.

Fun with Collage!

Sorry for the sporadic posting, but the semester recently started (I’m now an upperclassman!) and I started a new job (not a cool one, a normal one.) I’m taking a studio class called Art on Paper, which is basically an experimental mixed media class (on paper, of course.) Anyways, I thought I’d quickly share two collages that I made in experimenting with the technique.

Collage, I find, is a really interesting way to do quick sketches or studies. You can easily communicate strong color and shape. And plus it’s just fun. I continued my lipsticks and bullets motif here.

And then I made this because I’m super mature:

Hint: it looks like a vagina

I’m starting to take this motif in a bit of a more… Freudian direction, as you can see. I think that I had Hannah Hoch in mind when making these- she really explored femininity and sexuality well using collage, or papier colle if you want to be fancy.

Hannah Hoch- Grotesque

I think that Hannah Hoch’s work was paradigm shifting for me because I had previously only seen collage as something that old ladies use to make scrapbooks. Lo and behold, it can be used to communicate subversive views of gender and femininity!

Anyways, collage is fun. Go get some paper and go to town!

Simple Beauty: Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni books were some of my favorites as a kid. Lionni stories are deceptively simple fables always involving animals and an appreciation for the magic and wonderment of nature. Thumbing through these stories again reminds me of how stunningly beautiful the illustrations are.

Every story has its own distinct style of illustration as well. For instance, in Swimmy, the story of a fish searching for his own place in the world, explores the beauty if the ocean. As a result, the illustrations make use of wet paint applications.

In contrast, for The Biggest House in the World, which tells the story of a snail who’s insatiable desire for a bigger and bigger shell spirals out of control, Lionni employs a more sharp, smooth use of pencil.

Then, of course, there’s Frederick, the story of a mouse who, instead of collecting grains, corn, and other supplies for winter, instead collects “colors… for winter is grey,” and words “for the winter days are long and many, and we will run out of things to say.” This is all, of course, much to the chagrin of his fellow mice. But when winter rolls along and the food is long gone, the mice turn to Frederick for his “supplies.”

The illustrations use paper to highlight the colors and simple beauty that Frederick sees around him. I see this story as a testament to the importance of art and culture- it’s just as essential as food and shelter to a community. Looking at it now, this story may even be one of the reasons I became interested in being an artist at such a young age. Just as Frederick did, Leo Lionni’s stories remind us all that our world doesn’t just provide us with the basic necessities of life that feed the body, but with a profound beauty that feeds the soul.

Design Competitions: Scams?

Recently I was browsing my Facebook news feed and saw an interesting ad on the right hand side. It was for a “design competition” to design the album cover for a band’s upcoming release, the prize being $1000. Now, that prize is pretty good. Hiring a graphic designer to do an album cover would cost around that amount, probably. However, it got me thinking of all the similar contests I see out there that offer prizes closer to $100. And even if the grand prize results in what may be fair compensation, there are other factors that I think need to be considered…

Like copyright issues. During my senior year of high school, like many of my classmates, I started a fastweb account (a site that matches you up with scholarships to apply to.) My matches included some of these types of art competitions, one of them being to design new packaging for red vines (I think.) I was contemplating entering, but I made sure to read the fine print first. To my surprise, I found that the Red Vines company would retain copyright on all images I submitted. I would no longer own the work that I submitted, regardless of me winning or not. I think they offered around $1000 in scholarship money to the winner, an absolute bargain to the company, given that for that $1000, they not only get a new logo/design, but they also own the rights to the thousands of other entrants who didn’t win. It all just seems more than a little exploitative to me. Why not just hire a talented graphic designer to do the job? Or just nix the contest and just start a damn scholarship if you care about education so much? Oh, because it doesn’t involve getting tons of cheap/free labor. It just seems a little shady- and it’s such a gamble for the entrant. All but a small fraction of the entrants walk away with no prize money, nothing they can (legally) use in their portfolio, and out however many hours they spent on their work. Seems like an exceedingly bad deal to me. Oftentimes, these contests don’t produce very good work, and sometimes a winner isn’t even chosen.

Would you want being paid for your work to be a roll of the dice?

There are so many young designers/artists out there (me included) who are really hungry to break into the industry and get exposure. I feel like many of these types of competitions take unfair advantage of these naive dreamers. This website is a great resource on spec work and its unethical nature. Generally, these types of contests ask for designers and artists to put in hours/days of their own time, not to mention use their own materials, to produce work that has only a slight chance of actually paying them. Think about working at your own job only to be told when you clocked out “sorry, you weren’t the winner today, so you worked for free this week. No paycheck for you!” So, I’m not saying that all art/design competitions are bad, but be sure to read the fine print and seriously weigh the pros and cons before forking over your work and (often) money in entry fees. Overall, I think one is better off taking on small clients and getting experience that way. If someone truly respects your work, they’ll pay you a fair wage for it.

On Again, Off Again: My Love Affair With Sketching

At some indefinable point in time, I fell out of love with sketching. Like many artists, I started sketching at a young age. From the ages of 8-12 or so, I carried around my sketch book at all times. I drew everything. Pots and pans, flowers, bowls of fruit. It was a clean, non messy or difficult medium for a youngster to start with- no complicated or dangerous paints and chemicals. As a result, I really got a good start on learning how to “see” as an artist needs to from an early age.

I also drew a lot of fish for some reason… Fish, age 8

I got nostalgic recently and started to thumb through my old sketchbooks. It’s interesting to look at my childhood drawings now as an adult. I can sort of see what interested me at certain times. Landscapes were a big thing for me early on.

Apparently, at age 9, I also really loved ‘Murica.

However, once I started to really get into painting- around junior year of high school, I started to neglect my sketchbook in favor of the canvas. I would sketch things out with paint on the canvas ahead of time, or, in the case of my increasing interest in non-objective work, not at all. I began to see sketching as tedious once I graduated high school. I no longer “kept” a sketchbook. I’d made some here and there, but that previous childhood enthusiasm for carrying a sketchbook with me was gone. If I wanted to collect something for reference, I just snapped a picture. In college even, my Painting 1 class required me to “keep” a sketchbook and show it to my professor at the end of the semester. I think there were a grand total of four sketches by the end, and two of them were probably forced out a few days before. I just wasn’t a ‘sketcher” anymore, I thought.

Then, a few months ago, I was cleaning out my desk drawers and found this incredibly cool sketchbook that I must have received as a Christmas gift from my mom:

The cover has a holographic image of a pencil and three crayons, designed by Susan Kare. I saw this empty book, with its cool design and thick binding, and felt compelled to put SOMETHING in it. I couldn’t just let it sit there being all blank. At first, I just wrote in little notes; ideas for posts, little doodles, whatever. But then I started to feel the urge to fill it with beautiful pictures. I did these cake sketches for that very reason, and also to test out color schemes.

I ended up using this color scheme as an actual painting. And it all came from one silly little sketch. I’ve really started to get back into the groove of sketching lately. I don’t know why I abandoned it for so long. Something that at once seemed tedious to me now seems like an incredible time/frustration saver. I don’t have to rework my paintings so often because of minor compositional and placement issues. My ideas are far more developed early on, so I don’t have to do as much backtracking (which is pretty easy to do with acrylics regardless.) Obviously, that’s always been the point of sketching. You’re probably all going “well DUH, Megan!” But I guess I may have associated sketching too much with my childhood- it was something that I had graduated from. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve come to realize that, as an artist, you never “graduate” from the basics, they “graduate” with you.

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.”

The Floral Menace!

A lot of my fellow art students and artists that I meet (that consider themselves contemporary) have a bit of a beef with flowers. They don’t like them. They think they’re cheesy, boring, and ugh, as art subjects. They’re for “old ladies!” I used to feel this way as well. Floral paintings just always seemed so cheesy to me. It seemed like such an art cliche- the still life of flowers in a vase, on a table with some sort of fabric strategically laid out. We’ve all seen the mediocre watercolor flower paintings, seen our grandmothers tablecloths adorned with loud floral patterns. And I’m sure we’ve all seen every amateur “photographer” proudly post a close-up view of a flower to their flickr account. Flowers seemed like such a safe, saccharine subject matter to me as a young artist. The inherent sexism of it all- what with all this animosity towards subject matter that was so overtly feminine, was lost on me then.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I discovered (and could appreciate the erotic undertones of) the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work essentially woke me up to the fact that flowers, like any subject, held the potential to produce amazing, innovative work if in the hands of a capable artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.IV

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.V 1930.

Nevertheless, I just never really got “into” flowers all that much. I drew them occasionally through the years, but flowers have never really excited me as a subject. However, recently I completed a painting commission for a family friend who wanted me to do a painting of Plumeria, the flowers that grew around her childhood home in Hawaii. And she wanted it to be 22×30″. So, a huge painting of flowers. I was a bit scared, to say the least. But, I got over it, and researched the subject and approached it as I would any drawing/painting. And I found that I really enjoyed it. Here is the finished result:

Megan Koth, Plumeria. Commissioned work. June 2012. 30×22″

I love doing commissioned work because it takes me out of my comfort zone. Artists can get stuck into ruts of sticking with what makes them feel safe and secure, even when they think that they’re challenging themselves. For me, as a student, it’s especially important to me that I avoid doing this. I’m not saying that I’m gonna start churning out flower paintings left and right, but now that I know how well I can incorporate flowers into my style of working, I’ll be a lot more receptive when the time comes.