Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Holidays! 1950

Last month, while digging through my parents' stuff in preparation for a move, I discovered some family treasures about which I will be writing in the new year. One surprise finding was this pair of holiday cards made by my grandfather Albert Kner, in 1950. They are paper collage, done in a style that I hadn't quite seen from my grandfather before. In fact, they are in a style that I have embraced: simple and bold shapes. Needless to say, I was excited and touched to find these and to feel this connection. I love the playfulness with which my grandfather chose the different papers and textures for these two images-- the velvet for Santa's suit, the gauze for the clouds, the silver for the wings of the angle.

Inside these cards, printed in letterpress green letters, it reads: "Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year from the Kners *1950*". I don't know how many of these my grandfather would have made and sent out at the time, but I can imagine him very methodically printing the inside text, methodically cutting out all of the illustrative elements for the covers in multiples, and then methodically affixing them.

The colors of these cards, 58 years later, is bright and alive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Janet Hamlin

Janet Hamlin, Figurative Illustrator

Janet Hamlin is a figurative artist and illustrator with very strong powers of observation and empathy. I admire her skill and the clarity with which she sees and 'gets' her subjects. Janet is able to get right in there with the subtle postures and features that make a person who they are.
I love the sketch atop this entry, because it is so active in line, and so much about her act of seeing as translated through her hand and onto the page. This kind of sketch shows the fundamental skill which is the basis for her ability to then produce a more developed representation of someone in all of their complexity, like Woody Allen. I love this portrait Janet drew of Woody Allen, because she was able to capture both his physical and spiritual appearances, attached to which are the confidence and ease of her drawing ability.

Janet has illustrated for the Associated Press for many years, has drawn many books for children and grown-ups, and most recently and famously, has found a niche drawing in high-profile courtrooms. It was Janet who was sent to Guantanamo Bay several times this year to draw the 9/11 trials. There, under tremendous pressure, she was able to witness and capture the courtroom scenes. And it was she who so open-mindedly went back to correct an infamous nose. You can read about it in the New Yorker Talk of the Town

Janet teaches figure drawing classes at Edward Hopper's boyhood home, Hopper House, where she has been leading
her students to higher planes of observational and drawing achievement.
I know Janet as family and friend, and have come to be a big fan of her daughter Nancy's artwork, as well. Here are a few Nancy Hamlin Ryan treasures to enjoy:

Two portraits of important people in her life

A piece inspired from learning about The Day of the Dead

And my favorite... Germ School!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Inspired Turkeys of Leah Guenther

I have had the good fortune to spend the last three Thanksgivings with the talented and inventive Leah Guenther, who, each year, has brought along a supplemental Turkey of her own creation. Inspiring visually, conceptually, and digestively, Leah's turkeys all have sweet expressions, are hilarious (just by virtue of their being), and are cleverly assembled. Behold...

2006 (the debut)
The Bread Turkey

The Sweets Turkey


The Lettuce Turkey

Three-Quarters, aerial:


Notice how body parts were carefully selected for form as as they could possibly represent function. I love the variation of gullets from year to year, as well as wings and tail feathers. To me, they all embody a very Proud-to-Be feeling-- I think this comes from their festive tail feathers, especially. The spirit of these turkeys also conveys to me idea of 'imagining what could be, and making it happen'. Leah made something new by freshly combining what was around. I love this mode of thinking and find that some of the most satisfying solutions come out of this process.

For Thanksgiving, it is especially poignant that while so many turkeys are killed and consumed, some are also being created anew...

While Leah resists being considered the artist that she truly is, her creative accomplishments extend beyond the turkey realm. Leah spearheaded the creation of 826 Chicago which is the Chicago chapter of the National 826 Writing, Reading and Publishing non-profit organization geared to helping kids develop themselves outside of school. One of the most beautiful and touching collections of writing and drawings that I have ever seen, A Sunday Afternoon Hotdog Meal sprung from the hard work and creativity of Leah Guenther, her 826 Colleagues, and the Kids of 826 Chicago. This book contains short essays about what the 826 Writers (and Artists) have found to be noteworthy about their experiences of living in Chicago. The collection is sweet, hilarious, and well-crafted, just like the Turkeys. And it has that Proud-to-Be quality about it that makes it very joyful to behold. Consider obtaining a copy for yourself, or supporting the 826 National Organization.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama in the Garment District


Even two weeks after the election, it's still sinking in-- and how thrilling to see these additions to the windows in my studio neighborhood!

I love that someone Photoshopped the Obama Family "sitting in the lawn" of the White House (see upper right poster in window). I believe in the power of creating an image in the service of helping to envision something before it becomes real.

Now there are endless variations of three dimensional Obama objects for sale here, and everywhere. Products sprung out quickly and are now ubiquitous. I wonder how Barack himself feels about the spectrum of Obama Stuff available... and if they'll soon have Obama Perfume and Colognes for (whole)sale here too.

Perfume is a common item for sale in the Garment District (it's the invisible garment, is it not?). As an addendum... a day after I finished the above entry wondering when we'd see Obama perfume, there it was!

Smells like... hope? change? And when applied, it activates the wearer's ability to achieve his or her full potential and thus become excellent.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Studio Neighborhood

I work out of a shared studio space in New York City's Garment District, and have been taking photos on my way to and from work whenever I'm moved to do so. For a few months I have been meaning to pay a little tribute to the neighborhood in which I work, on this blog. This neighborhood is full of stores selling bootleg Dora the Explorer product, bootleg perfumes, wigs, watches, bling jewelry and cel phone accessories, and, of course, garments! I find the neighborhood stimulating and a bit frenetic-- there is so much human invention, production and entrepreneurship crammed into these city streets, and there is a lot of action on the sidewalks.

Along with connecting to the pervading wacky + inventive human spirit of this neighborhood, I discovered that I have a familial connection as well: my paternal Grandfather had a small shop for leather goods and tailoring about a block away from my studio, in the 1940s. He had been a tailor/clothes manufacturer working with leather before the family fled France during WWII. Here in NYC, he set up shop for a brief time, before returning to France after the War. Before the war, my Grandfather had produced leather helmets and jackets for motorcycle riders (picture 1930's leather helmets with straps) and pieced these goods together from scraps. Here in the States he was able to continue figuring out ways to make similar work, especially thanks to the opportunity and relative openness available in this country at that time.

One of the most worthy-of-celebration aspects of the human spirit, to me, is our ability to create and invent out of what's available to us. My grandfather and the generations of people from all over the world, working in this neighborhood to create and make available new inventions, are an inspiration to me.

Some leather-goods shops are still here (see the top image in this post and this one below), however dark and dingy they seem when I peek in... but the connection to my Dad's Dad and what his work represents, is palpable on these streets.

Tools for working with leather



Folk art motifs in the form of balloons!

A dramatic stage set for wigs

And below... Hair Mayonaise!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Teaching Animation At Parsons

Since 2006 I have been teaching Animation Design in Parsons School of Design's Pre-College Academy Program. This is a program for teens who are interested in art to have a college art experience, and learn techniques and approaches that aren't normally offered in their high schools.

During the school year, we meet once a week, but during the summer, we meet daily. This August, we had a 2 week Academy that I team taught with Illustrator/Cartoonist Leah Hayes.
Students learned about character design, story telling and sequential narrative, and design/layout in Cartooning class. Then, in my Animation class they learn principals of Traditional Animation (anticipation, squash + stretch, drawing for movement, drawing frame by frame), and how to apply them to Adobe Flash (our tool for animating).
The students learn a great deal in a short amount of time, and I am always very impressed by how far they go.
Here's a "pencil" test done by student Olivia Accardo, for her Sea Creature character:

And this is what she came up with for her "final"-- this was all done in 9 days of learning and experimenting.

Eventually I will blog more about student work and show the class compilations online.
But in the meantime: one student surprised me the other day by sending me this link to his blog, which details his experience in the program and shows his daily progress in both classes. As one of his instructors, I was very excited and proud to see this, but subjectively speaking, I think it offers a good report of the learning process that one goes through to figure out how to make their character come to life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

They Might Be Giants: Here Come the 1,2,3's

While this cd/dvd set was released in February of 2008, I am just now getting around to celebrating it here on this blog (where it's basically still February). They Might Be Giants
"Here Come the 1,2,3's" is an inspired series of songs with such bopping beats that you can't not dance around the room when you listen to them. And just when you thought the music couldn't be better, you'll discover a dvd with animations for each of the songs.
I am honored to be amongst the animators who were asked to work on this project:
in the Spring of 2007 I got a call from TMBG to please animate their song about Number 9, called "Pirate Girls Nine". This was a very exciting prospect for me, as I love music, love their music, and am happy when working on kids' educational projects.
Something very special about this project in particular was having John Flansburgh of TMBG, as the art director. He was extremely smart, funny and encouraging during the process, and I felt it was a collaboration in that he was guiding the vision of this piece while understanding and speaking my visual language. This band is so overflowing with creativity and is so super-productive that I am pretty sure they must have read this book. I would love to be able to crank out a tenth of what they do, but am just very happy to have had the chance to work with them and hopefully some of it rubbed off.

Here are some stills from the animation "Pirate Girls Nine":

and the animation can be found on the above-mentioned cd/dvd package, and can also be see via podcasts. Eventually, I will have it on my site as well.

The secret brain behind this animation, and the person to whom I owe a million thanks for his help, is Peter Hamlin. He not only inspired the palette, but he put forth a great effort helping me get this project done in the relatively short time we had. We animated my drawings using Flash, and Peter has since continued on to do his own music animations using After Effects, for Enstereo.

Thanks also to Tim Wilder, who helped get this output to its final form.
And last but not least, to animator Lucy Blackwell, who brought the 'Giants to me. I will be blogging about Lucy in more detail down the road, and my hat is off to her for her visionary animation work on this album for the song about Number 4, called "Apartment Four".

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Beating Heart

Speaking of vision, here I applaud the inventiveness of one of my studio mates, Yury Gitman (Banana Design Lab), who has been inspiring me by proximity with his experimental process, his problem-solving, and his diligence. Yury is a Toy Designer/Inventor, who teaches Interactive Toy Design at Parsons here in NYC. What is an interactive toy, you ask? Well, in the case of his newly released collection called My Beating Heart , it's a soft pillow that has the pulse of a 'heartbeat' inside of it. The pillow remains just a quiet, soft presence until you activate the heartbeat by pressing the subtly-placed switch sewn into the label on the hem. Then, when you hug the pillow to your chest, you feel its heartbeat next to yours. After several test-squeezes when passing by Yury's work area, I have determined that this is a very cozy and soothing item. Inside these soft and squeezable pillows are some electronics... here is a glimpse of some of the electronic hardware that made its way into this pillow... and a glimpse of Yury, working hard in his workspace.

It's a pretty magical fact about our hearts, that we have cells in there that produce electrical currents, which made them beat. There's more info on that here, and don't forget to enjoy the illustrations and animations on this site (especially the man with the yellow swisscheese speedo, getting the ECG)...

I appreciate that Yury uses the metaphor of electrical currents in the heart in this elegant form = content way. And I love that these beating heart pillows are the result of one person's vision and creative energy going towards making something to help more people feel more connected to the life force.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Tuesday

While this is a visual arts blog, I have to state here that Barack Obama is my candidate... and it's for his Vision.
He uses his unique life experience,his intelligence,his heart and his voice to inspire, create, bring ideas and issues up for discussion, and to hopefully make things better.

I think these are all essential elements to art and art-making too.

As an addition, there's a feature on the NYTimes which has portraits of voters across America being interviewed about their choice of candidate: it's a great core sample of people who live in the USA and what is going on in our minds about hopes, priorities and values.

If you like faces (as I do) and hearing how individuals express themselves-- given a short window in which to do so-- about issues that face all of us, you will enjoy this media piece.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Before January comes to a close... Hooray and Welcome 2008!!! May we all work intelligently to help each other as much as we can this year.