Monday, November 2, 2009

Sesame Workshop Reception

I recently had to go to Sesame Workshop's Lincoln Center offices, to pick up a hard drive that I had left with a producer, and was happily surprised to encounter Grover taking a nap next to a poster image I illustrated for the Sesame website relaunch.
(Either a nap or a therapy session.)

On another trip back there a week later, to another floor, I saw Grover in the poster. While these aren't illustrations of great visual interest, I am simply proud that they are the vessels for these loveable and favorite characters.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Silhouette Animation

A few weekends ago, I went to the Alliance Francaise in New York City to see a series of cut-paper silhouette animations, "Princes and Princes", by French animator Michel Ocelot. The engaging stories, all folk tales from around the world, were beautifully animated. And especially enjoyable to me, as someone who makes animations, is that Ocelot "introduces" each of these stories with 3 animated Animator-characters, an older man, a boy and a girl, who are sitting in their animation studio discussing the story they are about to tell. The audience was filled with French-speaking parents and kids, as this was a family event. I wanted to write about this because the animations were absorbing for both the very small and the older set-- they were simple AND sophisticated, both in form and content.
There are some posted on youtube-- my favorite story was the 6th of 6, about a prince and a princess who kiss before they marry, the prince turns into a frog, he tries to fix this by re-kissing the princess, she turns into a slug, slugs kisses frog in attempt to get out of their situation, prince frog transforms into another creature, etc., etc. and in the process, they learn to trust each other (and agree not to eat or crush the other one, depending on what animals they have become) until they eventually take on human form again at the end... but the prince is now a princess, and the princess is now a prince. It's a great tolerance tale, and the design of the story is a simple and elegant back-and-forth with movement and plot advancement. In my opinion, Michel Ocelot's simple and elegant visual form is the perfect vehicle for telling this story.

Meanwhile, Michel Ocelot's silhouette animation ancestor, Lotte Reiniger, also enjoyed a screening in NYC most recently, at the Museum of Art and Design, where they are currently celebrating Cut Paper Art with shows and events.

As an illustrator who uses cut-paper in my collage work, I have loved Lotte Reiniger's silhouette animations since I first saw her Prince Achmed. In the history of animation, Lotte Reiniger is significant for her beautiful animation work AND for the fact that she is one of the few independent animators of her era (it was around the 1920's when she started), AND she is a woman (with a husband who assisted her!).

About 12 years ago, when living in Seattle, I was asked by animator Web Crowell to create some cut-paper silhouette puppets with hinged joints, for an animated trailer he was creating for the Grand Illusion Cinema, a small art-house theater. I was just learning animation at the time, and was excited to make these puppets to be animated by someone who really knew the craft. Web's vision for the trailer was to animate 3D puppets he made out of found objects and sculpted heads, using stop motion. In the middle would be a 2D sequence with shadow-puppet references to movies throughout cinema-history. Web requested I make silhouettes puppets of key visual moments from Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, Mary Poppins, Dr. Strangelove, and, to my delight, Lotte Reininger's Prince Achmed. This was a great working/learning experience for me, and Web created a beautiful final piece which screened at the Grand Illusion as a theater identity before the movies played.

Lotte Reiniger's predecessors in the silhouette form, the Shadow Puppeteers of Indonesia, are enjoying a show at my favorite museum on the planet-- the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I read that Reiniger was influenced by shadow puppets of China, but I believe that Indonesia is best known for this art-form. If you happen to live near or to visit Santa Fe, this museum is a must-see full of folk art from around the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happy Go Driver!: designing for the iPhone

In the last several months, I've been enjoying watching the iPhone become a place to see interesting art and graphics. Visual artists can carry around a mini digital portfolio on an iPhone, which makes it possible to share one's work on the fly. And visual artists with the technical savvy, can create applications for this thing and find themselves becoming game designers all of a sudden.

I recently had the privilege to witness the development of a beautiful App. Atompatch is a team of two, consisting of illustrator/designer Peter Hamlin and conceptualizer/programmer John Balestrieri who recently released a game called "Happy Go Driver". It is a game about traffic management.

Peter Hamlin created some wonderful creatures, who drive their cars through and beautiful cityscapes that represent different "districts" of a metropolis.

These dynamic 'scapes have animated clouds and birds flying by on a top layer, which add even more depth to the interesting perspective of these landscapes. Excellent details, like a truck carrying bacon, or a single lollipop, keep the eyes delighted while experiencing the weirdly zen process of managing traffic with the tip of your finger. To get your version, go to the iTunes store in your iTunes and search for "Happy Go Driver".

Another App I want to toot, is the Slide-A-Ma-Jig created, designed and programmed by my pal, Illustrator Chuck Gamble. The Slide-A-Ma-Jig is a fun and funny mix-and-match body parts game where there are over 20 original characters whose hats, heads, midsections, and bottom parts can be interchanged. There are hilarious
sound effects for every move you make when "sliding", and backgrounds that you can switch as well. Chuck is the former Creative Director of Headbone Interactive in Seattle, where they developed a great look of digitally illustrated characters who inhabited worlds with photographic backgrounds. In the Slide-a-Ma-Jig, this look translates beautifully into the iPhone context. To get your version, you can visit the iTunes store and search for "Happy Go Driver".

Monday, August 31, 2009

Happiness resides in an Electric Car

As a brief addendum to the previous post: Tiny Inventions' Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter have outdone themselves in collaboration with They Might Be Giants, to create this wonderful animation "Electric Car".

Tiny Inventions will be releasing a "making of" video on their site soon, which I am very excited to see. Ru "crafted" the characters and props by hand, and they were then joyfully animated with great dance moves, to illuminate the poignant lyrics of the song.

How can you deny an Electric Car?
I found a site with a history of Electic mobiles, and reading it, I was struck by the presence of the words "inventors/invention"-- perfect match for the artist-animators who created the visuals for this "let's move forward" song.

Could the power of music and art create in this video's target audience (and accompanying adults) a broader consciousness and love for cleaner vehicles? Let's hope!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lecturing about Women in Animation, to Women in Animation, New York

Recently, my Parsons Pre-College Program teaching colleague Ru Kuwahata and I had the opportunity to present a lecture to the New York chapter of Women in Animation, about... Women in Animation! Specifically, we spoke about Contemporary Women Animators and screened work created in this decade (and century). This was a survey of work that interests us and to which we've been exposed, but it was by no means an exhaustive look at who is making work right now. We wanted to show work that was made for personal expression, for clients, and for learning/school. And the idea for giving this talk was to share these animators who inspire us, with the members of the New York Women in Animation group, and SVA students who attended our talk, in the hopes that the inspiration would be infectious.

(School of Visual Arts on E. 23rd st., where the talks happen)

Last year, Ru and I gave another survey talk, about the History of Women Animators, which can be seen on Ru's blog, where she documented the main elements. Researching this talk with Ru was a very satisfying experience of geeking out with someone who shared my interest and excitement about animation, history, and Animation History. In the research process we explored work to which we'd respectively and collectively been exposed, and combined our thoughts about the work and the creators into a collaborative lecture. The actual talk was organized chronologically, with us showing clips and discussing the life stories, influences, and techniques of the women animators we featured. The audience at that talk was lively and engaged, and we had a good discussion after wards with some members contributing personal stories of working with some of the animators we featured.

For this year's talk, we approached the research differently as we had the opportunity to ask questions to the living women animators we were presenting. We emailed these animators a list of questions, asking about technical training, process, women animators who influenced and inspired their work, and advice to other animators. In return we got thoughtful answers that informed the bulk of our talk, which we structured with clips and stills. As a bonus, we had 2 of the animators we presented, Signe Baumane and Nina Paley, in our audience, to answer questions and inspire the NY Chapter after we finished the talk.

I am lucky in that in my colleague Ru, I have found an inspiring friend and co-presenter of lectures! Ru works with her husband and partner Max Porter, in their studio Tiny Inventions where they make beautiful, funny, cute and impressive work.

I love to talk with Ru about how things are going on their current project, which is a personal animation that will be about 11 minutes long. Ru and Max are diligent, passionate, and continually engaged in their work. The still above is from their upcoming animation: "Something Left, Something Taken".

Co-teaching, co-presenting, and chatting with Ru, I feel I have a mini-Women In Animation group, where we share information, support and inspiration. The larger organization-- the official Women in Animation, is the same on a larger scale, where resources, motivation, and learning are shared and spread.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

El Baile Del Sombrero!

Not long ago, I was asked by some Brooklyn musician pals to make some artwork for their album of children's music: "El Baile Del Sombrero". Charles Mister and Fatima Sfiligoi are the musician pair behind Abbasubi. Their new album is a collection of songs in Espanol, written by Fati, a native of Argentina. Charles composed the music, and together they have an album that is full of very sweet lyrics and festive tunes.
I was very happy to be asked to illustrate this album, as the lyrics are full of imagery and characters. After I created a collection of characters, the talented designer Mariana Canale did her magic with them, and composed the entire cd package:

The title comes from the Fati/Charles musical phenomenon which they originated with their kids, that one must dance wearing crazy hats. The hats are made of felt, and come from a hatmaker in Lujan, Argentina.
Here is a photo of some of these hats, modeled by our friend Flynn and the kids:

Motivated by the fact that they do live shows, Charles and Fati asked me to make them a puppet based on the rabbit, El Conejito Teo, from their album. This was a leap for me, to make a 3D puppet from a 2D design, as I consider myself somewhat spatially challenged. Thanks to this great Internet, I found this page which taught me how to make a mouth board. Many hours of trial and error later, emerged a large, yellow, felt version of Teo.

And he has a carrot:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Caps for Sale

Caps for Sale, told and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina, is one of my favorite books from childhood, for both the cleverness and playfulness of the story, and for the color and line in the illustration.

There's an interesting bio of Esphyr Slobodkina at Harper Collins and then there's a site devoted to her lifetime oeuvre at Slobodkina Foundation. This site shows both her children's books and her fine art over the decades. It's very interesting to see the abstract modernist thought process in her fine art in respect to her more folk-arty and representational illustration work-- it makes me look at the later for signs of the former.

When I was a child, I loved the repetition in this book, and I remember the dramatic surprise of seeing the tree with the trickster monkeys in it. I also remember loving the caps-- how there were a few of each kind, and how they were so nicely ordered atop our protagonist's head at the beginning and end of the story.

Not long ago, I heard about a "call for Hats" from NYCreates, asking for hats for people going through chemotherapy, with all hats to then be donated to the Heavenly Hats Foundation. My initial idea was to order some already-comfy hats from a chemo cap supplier, and invite friends over to decorate them. However, one of my crafty friends, Jocelyn Meinhardt, a talented and clever seamstress, playwright and artist, busted out and made three handmade chemo hats from patterns. They are all sturdily-made, beautiful, and styling. One of her 3 hats ended up winning the contest: in this photo, it is the hat in the second row, which is reversible! Both fabrics in this hat are extremely fresh and soft, and full of good feeling.

The the third and fourth row are the caps we decorated: black cap by Jocelyn, white cap with single flower by Emily (our model), tan cap by Laura, and cream cap with flowers by yours truly. We all wish for these caps to comfort and adorn their wearers, and we hope for them to be loving companions on their roads to recovery.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hungarian Mustaches

Going back to the very first entry on this blog, I wrote about the Hungarian influence on my work, which stems from growing up in a home with Hungarian graphic design, folk art, and books all around. As it goes, I recently had an opportunity to make some Hungarian-influenced work for an actual Hungarian-influenced context. The Hungarian Cultural Center of New York City has been sponsoring a year-long celebration of Hungarian culture called Extremely Hungary, in both NYC and DC. They have flown in musicians from Hungary to play at Carnegie Hall, held readings with Hungarian authors, organized Hungarian food cooking demonstrations, and then most recently, sponsored a Mustache Contest.

I've been using mustaches in my Illustration work since I started Illustrating. They always seemed like they should been there on the faces of my characters. Mustaches make a great graphic presence on a face, and have always felt like a finalizing mark to make. Mustaches appeared in everything I made from editorial illustrations to pieces I made for art shows, such as this one from 2000:

As time has passed, I started to worry that I was using the mustache as a crutch, and I started to lay off a little. But then in 2009, the Mustache Contest came to town, and it soon became clear that I was to be making a collaborative mustache with Illustrator and friend Aya Kakeda.
I love Aya's work and need to devote another blog entry to say how much and why, but briefly here, I will say that she makes work that is funny and mysteriously dark in a compelling way, full of story, graphically interesting, and from her unique vision. Aya has her own connection to Hungarian culture, having spent a month working in Budapest with a team of New York artists, creating a miniature model of Manhattan for the Sziget Music Festival in 2007.

So we soon found ourselves meeting once a week to plan and craft a wearable mustache that we would enter in this Mustache Contest. Collaborating with Aya was a great experience of sharing a vision, and working together in many steps, each invented as we went, to realize it. We sketched our ideas, quickly agreed on the concept, and then basically proceeded to create this mustache out of felt, needle, thread, and glue.

Each week we'd meet and make more progress on figuring out how we'd fit in, the structure, stuffing or no stuffing, and most fun, the decoration.
The mustache came together as a dialogue between the two of us, and so it feels very right that it's a two-headed, connected form that we wear and move around in together.

Going through this creative process with Aya, I am convinced that collaboration is where the best ideas can emerge, and where the magic happens.

Last night, at Radegast Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Mustache Contestants, judges, and hundreds of friends of all gathered to celebrate and award the mustaches.
Aya and I won the "Dali" prize, for best art mustache. The runner-up, Francois Leloup Collet, was a beautifully ornamented Mustache Tree, which culminated in a mustache growing with bird's nests and birds. (I wish I had a photo of him. Here is a video that captures the mayhem of the event, and shows the Mustache in motion. Thank you Paul Adams, for taking and posting video of us, and Peter Hamlin, for the photos.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Paula Scher and Type!

Another artist/design whose work I admire for its alive-ness is Paula Scher. I recently heard her speak on a small panel about design, at the Museum of Art and Design here in NYC, that was put on by Slate Magazine. This was the first time I'd heard Paula Scher speak, and her articulate contributions to the discussion made me want to research her more. But I already knew I loved her work from seeing a print of a painting of hers, in which she ILLUSTRATED the New York map with subways and streets and neighborhood names. I'd never seen a map so infused with personality, life, humor and voice.

I was once told that one should think about type as a voice-- that choosing the type is like choosing the voice of a character. One can ask: how do I want the content of the words that I'm type-setting to sound? You can walk around reading signage on the street, and experiment with saying it out loud (at least in NYC) in the voice you conjure up from the forms of the letters. What I love about Paula Scher's maps is they are so full of 'characters' that they feel populated, alive, and noisy.

Here's a detail of her map of China that, to me, beautifully communicates the population density and the infinite voices that I imagine to be crowded amongst each other there:

And one more, of Florida, where the type is practically in motion, animated and swirling in the water... brilliant!

So while I was aware of Paula Scher's maps, I didn't realize that I've been living amongst her type all over the citi-- even right near the museum where I heard her talk, there's a Citibank around the corner, and Jazz at Lincoln center across the circle of Columbus Circle. She is everywhere, and how awesome is that?

I found this video produced by Adobe, where Paula Scher speaks frankly about her development in her use of type, and her design process. (Click where it says "Launch video".)

Paula Scher also gives a talk on TED
in which she uses the terms "serious" and "solemn" to contrast approaches that we can choose to take when we are faced with solving a (design) problem. I appreciate that she did the work of addressing this difference, and that she shared her discoveries.

After all this recent learning from Paula Scher, I became zesty about type too, and I started taking photos of appealing letter forms...hopefully soon I will start creating some too.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Maira Kalman on the Inauguration

A few days ago, Maira Kalman contributed her take on President Barack Obama's inauguration, as an eyewitness illustrator-writer-poet. It is beautiful! Maira Kalman chronicles her journey to and in D.C. through the sites that struck her eyes and soul. I love the immediacy with which she records and translates her perceptions- her art and words are direct, honest, and feel like they come from an open heart and mind. While they are not photographs, they have a quality to them that brings to mind the words of Photographer Walker Evans: “Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.”
We all saw this next image broadcast on TV or the internet, and had feelings about it-- I mentioned it in my previous entry, but Maira Kalman's version, by virtue of that she spent time with it, re-creating it in paint, says more. To me, this image is saying "I was there, watching this too! and so was this tree! and the sky! and this our feeling about it."

In this series, Maira Kalman pays attention to both nature and human culture, with a celebratory curiosity. Another artist whom I have admired and loved for many years, for a similar kind of seeing is Alice Neel. I will write about Alice Neel in her own entry, but had to tie her in here, because I get an Alice Neel feeling from some of the more directly observational pieces in Kalman's Inauguration series.

It's very touching to me how Maira Kalman chose the subjects the details of her Inauguration Adventure to communicate the excitement, joy and liberation that she felt in this event. She took us on a tour of her experience, but has tapped into the creativity of the people (historic and present) and the natural world that she felt were vibrating with the spirit of the day.
In this series and in her work in editorial illustration and children's books, Maira Kalman gives her audience a 'hit' of her tremendous creative life-force, which gives us all permission to create and be alive along similar lines-- it's as if she is sharing a deep-rooted language of creativity which we can all tap into if we would allow it. I believe it is for this, her smarts, humor, skill and wisdom, that Maira Kalman is a much-beloved artist/author in today's world. Thank you Maira!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Hooray for our 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama!! Hooray for everyone who helped him become the person he is, and who helped him to get to where he got to today! And Hooray George W. Bush, for flying away, off into the blue sky.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goodbye George W. Bush

To celebrate the end of this 8-year disaster, I wanted to look back at some of the Bush illustrations I created over the years. Above is a portrait from a series I painted of all of the U.S. Presidents. (I am very excited to paint the next one...)

And below are some of the Bush illustrations I made for the Seattle Weekly Newspaper. When looking through my archive, I have drawings of Bush growing a Pinnochio nose, chopping down trees, riding a nuclear missile, and driving a wrecking ball through a group of senior citizens.

Here is a more harmonious piece:

And here's a hopeful one that came right before the 2004 election:

And finally, an illustration of what we should have been able to do to stop this at some point:

Creating politically-charged editorial illustration is a challenge-- how can the grey areas and complexities of any issue be addressed in a single image that needs to 'read' quickly? With the Seattle Weekly, I was lucky to be partnered with writer Geov Parrish, who was well-informed, but also wrote to the extreme to get his readers to react. Illustrating his column for a few years, I had the opportunity to engage in this challenge every week, and eventually get more comfortable with it. George Bush was a regular subject in this column, and for all the bad that he spread around, I have to say that I really enjoyed drawing him.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Hello to the Post It Show III, which is still up at LA's Giant Robot Gallery. I was happy to be part of this show (under my pseudonym, Nina Frankel), along with hundreds of other artists. Making work for this show, I was guided by the PostIt's low-key-ness, which got me into an art-making process which went something like this: have an idea, grab a PostIt, try it out... while working on that image, get another idea, grab another PostIt, start that idea, an on, and on. I'd soon have about 20 PostIts gestating together on my desk. Then I would look to sort out which were not worth pursuing and which had possibility. From every batch of 20, there would be two or three that seemed they would make it to full fruition. In the end, I sent off 24 to the show, and have a big stack of rejects to keep for future inspection-- maybe these will serve as good ideas for later, and maybe they need to be recycled.

Here a survivor, that made the trip out to LA for the show:

Hungarians in OuterSpace

I'm grateful to Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson for curating this show and giving so many of us this nudge to experiment and produce. And thank you to the PostIt, for being a liberator of ideas and a receptacle for creativity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sculpey 2009

This is the New Year email card I sent out to friends and clients this year, and I thought I'd put it up on this blog to start the new year off with a little Sculpey.

Sculpey is my 'recreational' art form-- I have been working with it for about 12 years, and find it very fun. The best are the colors that you can mix-- it's such a good feeling to take chunks of raw Sculpey, mix them in your hands, and see a new color emerge. For anyone who mixes paint, this is an exciting tactile experience! It's also satisfying to me mix subtle or moody colors out of the very bright raw materials.

These Sculpey lions were made for two people whom I love and admire very much, to stand by and watch over them during cancer treatment. The one in the background was named "Chemo-sabie" by its recipient, and one in the foreground was named "Chemo-simba", as a brilliant riff on the other one's name, by its recipient.

I love creating characters in 3D, and while I haven't yet used Sculpey for any stop-motion animation work, one of my hopes for 2009 is to make that happen.
(Here's a link to my stop-motion heroes, Aardman.)

There is a good resource on the Sculpey site, called Sculpey 101 which I recommend checking out. To supplement, here are some things that I have learned from using Sculpey over the years:

-While Sculpey is non-toxic, I suggest getting a dedicated toaster oven from a garage sale for baking it, and not using your kitchen oven. Also too, you can get a mini-pyrex casserole dish for the oven's tray, to use instead of the metal one that might come with.

-Always underbake your Sculpey-- I find that when you bake it until it is brittle, it will break that much sooner. Take your Sculpey out of the oven before you think it is done. It will continue to bake/harden after you remove it, with the heat it has taken in.

-If your Sculpey creation is to stand, make sure you place it as you want it to stand, on the baking tray.

-You can coat your Sculpey with clear nail polish, or Sculpey brand's clear fixative.
This does seem to make the pieces last longer. I haven't discovered a matte finish, but am sure there are products out there.

-If you are mailing Sculpey to a friend, go overboard with packing. There is nothing sadder than your recipient telling you they opened your package only to discover your loving gift, dismembered.

-And finally, if you are an artist who is used to 2D, I highly recommend getting yourself some Sculpey for exploring the next dimension. I now bring Sculpey to my Animation class at Parsons- once the students have settled on their character designs in their sketchbooks, we make them in Sculpey. This process is valuable for getting to know their characters even more, and then they have a little pal to place next to the Computer for inspiration, when working.