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:

Jet Attacks

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.

               Source

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:

Cover planning (384x400)

and pre-published cover illustrations:

Cover Art (258x400)

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:

Film Storyboards (400x300)

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.

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Veteran’s Day- Thanks, Bob

Probably the best decision I made in high school was joining the Arizona Heritage Project in my sophomore year. It was a school club, where we interviewed veterans living in Arizona about their service, and would then write an essay based on said interview that was published in a book annually (and archived by the Library of Congress!.) I initially joined only to do the artwork, as at the time I loathed writing, but I’m so glad that I ended up doing interviews. I’ll never forget the amazing stories I heard and the veterans I met.

I even interviewed the late renowned space/futurist artist Robert McCall who served during WWII, which was an incredible experience, to say the least. I was also quite starstruck, as he went over his incredible career-

         2001: a Space Odyssey Space Station One by Robert McCall

Look familiar? He made the promotional artwork for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and was friends with Issac Asimov (no big deal or anything), among many other things. During the interview, I was especially taken aback by how optimistic and cheerful he was- I think I’d previously imagined war veterans as damaged individuals, eternally cynical, especially about the future, after having seen and experienced what they had. Bob really proved me wrong, talking with a characteristic glint in his eye about how excited he was for the future of America, the space program and technology. He even helped to strengthen my resolve to pursue art at a time where it seemed a silly or unattainable dream.

So, happy veteran’s day to all of you, but especially to the veterans I interviewed while in the project, and to Bob McCall’s family. Unfortunately, he died in 2010- just a year after I interviewed him. It was such a shock, as he seemed so intensely alive and vibrant when I talked to him- he was just one of those people who, when you talked to him, seemed like he would live forever. Thinking about him now, I think he’d be happy to hear that I’m still pursuing art, and he definitely had a big hand in that decision. So, thanks a ton Bob, and Godspeed.

Artbook of the Day: Nausicaa Watercolor Impressions

It’s no secret that I love fancy (and sometimes not so fancy) art books, nor is it a secret that I love Hayao Miyazaki films. So, it’s no surprise that I own nearly all of the art books in the Viz series about his films. They’re all weighty hardcovers with gorgeous illustrations, concept sketches, and other unseen gems from the making of each film. I love looking through these books every once in a while- I find comfort in visiting his fantastical worlds, given that I grew up with his films.

One such book that sort of stands out from the rest is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Watercolor Impressions. This book more emphasizes concept work than the others, given that Nausicaa was originally a manga penned and illustrated solely by Miyazaki in gorgeous watercolor.

One of Miyazaki’s favorite illustrations of princess Nausicaa

Nausicaa is such an amazing film (unfortunately I haven’t read the manga yet,) about a post apocalyptic (pre-apocalyptic?) and environmentally damaged planet. As a result, the planet tries to heal itself- by eliminating all humans. It’s up to the spunky, empathetic princess Nausicaa to save the day, which culminates in a heartbreaking climax where she begs the planet to forgive the human race-a theme that Miyazaki revisits in his proceeding work. It’s such a beautiful story, and even after all these years, relevant. I was always struck by how powerful Miyazaki’s female heroines were- not necessarily in physical power, but there was just an energy behind them. They seemed like real people, with real emotions and conflicts behind their expressions. They make the highly idealized, wide-eyed faces of the Disney princesses seem vacant by comparison (I guess they look kinda vacant without doing a comparison…)

Of course, you come to a Miyazaki film for the great characters, but you stay for the incredible world-building (or is it the other way around?) He almost always features incredible flying machines-

lush landscapes-

-and incredible creatures of fancy, and sometimes destruction:

It was also interesting to see some early concept art Miyazaki made pre-Nausicaa. I especially loved this gem:

I love these books. It’s so amazing to be able to take a trip into a sketchbook see the thought process of one of the greatest artists of our time through his own personal sketches and paintings.

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!

Sketching in Watercolor

I’ve started to really warm up to watercolor lately. It still gives me some anxiety- I worry too much about not being able to “go back” like I can with acrylic-, but I’m getting better. I’ve found that when I decide to sketch with watercolor I can be much more relaxed, and therefore more free and spontaneous. Since I’m not worrying about ruining a finished piece, I feel like I start to use the medium more effectively. I really treasure this sketch that I did in the “secret garden” on my college campus. I like it more than the finished painting even!

Even though the door/windows are crooked, and the shadows are inaccurate, I feel like I really captured the feel of the place, which was very relaxing- It was a nice, calming space (on a nice, cool day!) I look forward to letting loose more in the future by sketching in watercolor, gaining more confidence in the process.

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.

Revisiting Old Experiments

Last year I didn’t do a whole lot of my usual acrylic painting (my dorm room being so small and all) and started to experiment with watercolor. I took a watercolor class, and continued to do some little doodles in my spare time just at my desk (really the only surface in my tiny dorm.) I saved the small doodles I did, and recently dug them up and began working back into them not with watercolor, but with acrylic.

I already use watered down acrylic in a lot of my works, but using this same medium on paper is interesting (and entirely different.) I quite like watercolor, and it really takes me out of my comfort zone of working on a canvas and getting that immediate payoff of acrylic/oil paint. Working on such an absorbent surface is an interesting change of pace.

Most of the painting here was done in watercolor, and I added the orange dots (and a little more orangey-ness) with acrylic. I also added the dark blue lines with acrylic using a needle-tip bottle, and painted in the green bars. I like the mixture of the wispyness of watercolor combined with the crisp sharpness of acrylic. Working in mixed media opens so many possibilities! Revisiting old sketches and doodles can be really rewarding. Sometimes we do our best work when we’re not even in “work” mode, and just let our mind wander onto the page.

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.