Monday, September 26, 2011

Jaleen Grove on Robert Weaver: Sept 29

The discipline of art history has paid modest (scant?) attention to the history of illustration. For the most part, illustration is used as a backdrop: a cultural grounding and visual context for the real art. There's plenty to say about that. Unlike many I tend to see the ideological territory of non-art as quite interesting. Another day.

I'm pleased to say that one of the rising stars of illustration studies is coming to Washington University to speak this Thursday, September 29. Jaleen Grove is a doctoral candidate at SUNY Stonybrook, researching 20th century Canadian illustrators in the American print market as well as other topics. Jaleen has been active as an illustrator as well as an illustration historian, continuing a long tradition of practitioner-historian-theorists in the under-considered fields of cartooning and illustration. (See: examples from Frank King to Art Spiegelman to Seth, illustrated by the the Gasoline Alley strip below, which "cites" Winsor McCay's Little Nemo strip by convention.)

Jaleen will be speaking at Olin Library at 4:30pm this Thursday. (All of my students will be in attendance. Capiche?) Her topic will be the Robert Weaver show curated by Skye Lacerte that I mentioned last week. Anyone with a passing interest in illustration history in the St. Louis region should be there. Jaleen will address Weaver's thoughts on illustration versus fine art in the 1960s. Weaver was a passionate artist who embraced and thought clearly about illustration, yet resisted its ghettoization in visual culture.

Looking forward to seeing Jaleen, and to hearing her talk!

Images: Robert Weaver, spread from Brief Lives, circa 1970; Frank King, Gasoline Alley, circa 1920.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sequential Narrative

UPDATE: I have embedded a video in this post via vimeo. One of the machines I use in my studio is a lumbering, Pre-Columbian Power PC unit, on which I cannot install an up-to-date super-groovy Intel-based Flash video player. Please note that if you are using an older computer, you may encounter a blank space about halfway down this post, followed by a link to vimeo. Just follow the link to vimeo, then come on back to us.   

ALSO, regular GT readers: it is unusual for me to address a post directly to students, as I do below, bypassing you. Please know that you are implicitly considered. Ultimately, we are all in the same boat. 

Dear Seniors: since our session today was taken up entirely by critique, I was not able to screen some of the material I had planned to show.

As I indicated in the few minutes we had at the end of class, your next problem is the creation of a modestly-scaled visual story, to be delivered solely through images. That is, your story cannot have dialogue. You can't narrate it. We must be able to track what happens from frame to frame, panel to panel, beat to beat.

You are to deliver your narrative in either of two forms: a miniature film (iMovie is fine) or a sustained comic narrative. If you make the film, it should run 30 to 45 seconds; if the comic, a four-pager. But in either case, make it your own; turn the problem to your own ends.

Here are your prompts:





Choose one, define your action and get to work on a storyboard. Ultimately, these should provide a decent level of finish art, but we'll discuss that on a case-by-case basis, and after we're well underway. This will be a two week project.

Countdown - HD from Desrumaux Celine on Vimeo.

This film by French animator CĂ©line Desrumaux recapitulates some of our received imagery for rocket launches. You've seen some of this before. But the image construction, intercutting and timing are lovely, and I show it here because it delivers a straightforward tale of preparation and payoff. We prepare the rocket, we prepare the astronauts, we launch. Finis. Although your project won't be nearly so long, the film provides an excellent example of what I'm asking you to produce: a wordless narrative. Audio makes a contribution, but primarily through pacing and atmosphere. If I turn the sound off, I still track the action.

And thanks to friend and colleague John Hendrix for tipping me off to Desrumaux's film.

I have written on cinematic storyboarding before. Review here if necessary. Remember: each "shot" performs one task.

Ms. Desrumaux cites Chris Ware as one of her influences, and it's possible to see the connection. But it had been my intention to show these pages from Acme Novelty Library No. 18 (2007 ) since I spent time with them last summer. These big, silent cinema pages punctuate denser, wordier sequences. They're narrative tone poems.

Have a productive week, and I'll see you Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Drawing Lines––Robert Weaver at Olin LIbrary

Our juniors are beginning a reportage project on Friday. For starters, we visited an exhibition curated by Skye Lacerte on the work of illustrator Robert Weaver, presented in the cases outside special collections in Olin Library (on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis). Documented here via several crappy iPhone photos.

Longtime readers of this blog know that Weaver's work lives in the Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University. I've written often about Weaver, whose work set the standard for an engaged–activist–journalistic illustration practice in the shifting editorial landscape of the late 1950s and 60s. Particularly relevant posts are viewable here and here.
Skye's exhibition does an excellent job of capturing Weaver's highly formal informality. She's also excavated some of the New York Magazine tearsheets for projects I hadn't seen in context.

There's a great deal more to be written, but for now suffice to say: a treat, and up through September 30. Stay tuned for a special event associated with the exhibition, planned for September 29...

Here, a glimpse of an extremely influential illustrator being influenced: the touch of Ben Shahn is quite apparent in this drawing, and in several other pieces, too.

Congratulations, Skye, on a great show!

Juniors, we'll be taking the train on our own urban explorations come Friday. Remember to pick up your Metrolink passes tomorrow!

Our friend Miroslav Sasek shows the way, from This is London (1959). It's important to stress as we begin that there are lots of ways to report from the world, not just Weaver's...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Letters, Words, Pictures

Classes have resumed here in our little niche of the ivory tower. I'm teaching two studio courses this fall, same as a year ago: Word & Image 1, team taught with Heather Corcoran, and Visual Worlds: Image Development for Illustrators and Cartoonists, solo. To juniors and seniors, respectively, both courses for majors in the Communication Design area.

Our first project in W & I 1 involves the use of a single alphabetic character as a prompt, to generate a suite of images and letterforms in response. This pile of stuff becomes a data set of sorts, to draw from in the development of a second stage of the project. Last year, when Professor Corcoran was on leave, I posted some examples of letterforms for students (from my admittedly illustrative point-of-view). Heather has posted an excellent set of ABCs over at her blog, Corcoran for Design.

On Heather's suggestion, we added a wrinkle to the project this time out.

In addition to letters

and pictures

we're also asking for settings of words which begin with the assigned letter.

The words open up some fun territory.

Thinking about this led me to posters. Particularly, WPA posters. About a year ago I picked up a great book documenting WPA posters. I've been meaning to post on the subject for some time, but haven't quite gotten around to it. So I dug out some of the images we scanned for a rainy day, looking for examples that seemed relevant to this discussion. At the top, a theater poster for a marionette version of the Czech play (presumably in translation) R.U.R., or Rossum's Universal Robots. Poster is probably 1943.

Then, one of a zillion WPA posters promoting national parks. The treatments of "National" and "Parks" caught my eye for present purposes.

I love this map, which acquires the status of an object and an abstraction, seemingly at once. The big rounded characters on the "travel guide" passage have an undeniable hand-lettered charm that seems to soften their art deco geometry. I'm also fond of the word "vacationist", which communicates a stronger sense of purpose, not to mention grace, than "vacationer".

The WPA posters shown above are reproduced in the book Posters for the People by Ennis Carter and Christopher DeNoon. I recommend it heartily. Meanwhile the project has acquired an online existence, including an inventory of more than 1500 WPA posters available in reproduction. I haven't explored the site--just found it while reminding myself of the book's authors--but it looks like a wonderful research tool. I'm away from my books at the moment so I don't have the caption information. I'll update this post later with as much detail as I can harvest from the book.