Friday, December 30, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
It's Wintertime and last week my senses landed in San Miguel de Allende. Through the soles of my shoes I feel the textures of the cobblestone streets reminding me to take a deep breath and look. The silence of morning frost marks this period between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. A cold wind has started to blow in and cousins just called to say that snow is falling in the North of Mexico.
Here on the Mexican altiplano, the December sun sits low in the sky and the quality of winter light casts long shadows. In this window the colors of a papel picado converse with the umbra of memories as the year draws to a close.
The hard earth lures nature into a period of sleep during the cold of Winter. Tuning into this season I decided to let assignments on the table rest briefly and create some personal work. These experiments walk down the corridor of my thoughts as the year winds down.
Monday, December 5, 2011
My warmest thanks to the exceptional Jules Danielson for this Thanksgiving interview in her amazing blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. I'm a huge fan of this inventive blog that really celebrates book passion. Take a look at the interviews she crafts with writers and illustrators and I know you will get hooked.
I painted the portrait above of our son Santiago, to express the joy we felt when he truly embraced the magic of reading. Like many families we were all spellbound by J.K. Rowling's unforgettable alchemy of stories about Harry Potter.
Those 2 blue trees in the painting represent papa y mama. Their heart shapes mirror the book passion we now share with him.
Last year, I made the case that at this season of giving, the perfect book is waiting to be cherished by your own family and friends. Some of my favorite holiday memories are of my mother Pillo reading to me by the fire while eating the buñuelos she made drenched in brown sugar, cinnamon and guava syrup. In just 2 weeks we are headed south to spend Christmas at our home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I can already smell the cooking. Ever notice how adding just the right spice can make all the difference?
What makes giving books even more fun is the idea of pairing them like a chef, with other special ingredients. Good cooks can blend good books with a little something special. We involve our son in this process and enjoy sitting around the table after dinner, doodling and discussing ideas for just the right combinations. I believe this family tradition of book pairing has helped our son become a passionate reader. It's fun and lets him know how much we value books. When you give a child a book you are also making a promise to spend time with them. What could be more memorable than cuddling by the fire with the right book at the holidays?
In this book pairing list I wanted to include treasures for kids and kids at heart-especially those who appreciate incredible pictures. As an illustrator, I can't resist the temptation to include books that I feel have soaring imagery coupled with compelling stories. I hope these suggestions help your own gift-giving take flight.
For me, the minimal realism of illustrator Charley Harper is pure visual and geometric poetry. This wise genius said "I don't try put everything in, I try to leave everything out".
Charley Harper, An Illustrated Life by Todd Oldham is a celebration of a master artist who connected with nature in such a profound way. I like to run the beach at Coronado and this time of year I find lots of sand dollars washed up on the shore. Simply tie his books up with a ribbon slipped artfully through the sand dollar holes and you have the perfect combination for the art or nature lover on your list.
For small children, choose Harper's wonderfully illustrated ABCs or 123's board book and combine it with a whimsical, inexpensive Kikkerland Bird Whistle or a butterfly hand puppet. The sophisticated colors and textures of this legendary illustrator reveal the magic of nature in all it's glory.
Here's a shout out to my good friends Monica Brown and John Parra for making such a uniquely crafted book as Waiting for the Biblioburro. This captivating story is about real life hero Maestro Luis Soriano. He brings books to kids in rural areas and remote villages in Columbia on the backs of his two donkeys Alfa and Beto. You can view a short film about him at CNN Heroes and this photo is by Ingrid Rojas.
I'm a huge fan of John Parra's folkloric illustrations that remind me of retablos. They bring authenticity and passion to this inspiring story that reminds us how lucky we are to have access to books. Add a library card and this toy donkey from Tapir and Friends Animal Store.
I'm greatly inspired by the work of Leo Lionni. His ability to create fantastic fables where animals with human values teach important lessons to kids will win you over. This artist really understood how kids think and his authentic, essential illustration style offers lessons on peace, individuality, sharing and cooperation. In Inch by Inch a clever inchworm uses his measuring skills to get out of sticky situations. Reminds me of growing up in Mexico City. He calculates the length of a flamingo's neck and then a heron's legs. When a nightingale asks him to measure his song he has to think fast or become dinner.
Leo Lionni was the first illustrator to use collage as the main medium in children's books and you can find surprises like hand made paper, photos, ribbon and newspaper clippings. His rich earth tones and ability to distill the essence of his subjects in a simple, captivating way makes him a legend in my eyes.
Pair this with a colorful, kid-friendly tape measure and curious kids will discover the joy of measuring the tails on their stuffed animals or the size of dad's shoes.
Adventurous adults and kids will fall hard for the This Is Series from extraordinary Czech illustrator Miroslav Sasek.
If you love mid-century design and travel, these books will make your head spin. If you get just one you will want to collect them all to dream about the places you will go.
Pair them with a bow and these playful luggage tags or a wonderful GEOpuzzle where the pieces are shaped like the countries. My son and I had more fun putting the puzzle together. He then picked a piece that corresponded to these incredible books and the reading began. You couldn't ask for a more enlightening tour guide than M. Sasek for your next adventure.
Explore the awesome power of might Zeus with an extraordinary book illustrated by Spanish artist and illustrator Pep Montserrat and retold by Eric Kimmel, The McElderry book of Greek Myths. The gorgeous end papers pay tribute to ancient Greek vases and the compellingly rich, earthy, imagery will transport you spellbound to Greece. Combine this book with rainbow scratch paper and kids can create their own ancient Greek vases. I found these fantastic kids scratchboard art from third graders in Miss Oetken's class. Great work!
Take a look at the pure magic in the illustrations of gifted Mary Blair. This legend had a sophisticated sense of color, and a whimsical, naive-stylized simplicity that catches your eye. If you've been to Disneyland think of the Small World ride or what about the films Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. At our home in Mexico there are many wonderful religious processions. Perhaps my favorite part is seeing small children dressed in white with angel wings. Mary Blair's wonderful work in the little golden book I Can Fly would be a heavenly match with a set of these inexpensive toy wings.
Cooking up delicious combinations with books can get your kids involved in the joy of reading and giving.
This year I got lucky and got to work with clever writer Samantha Vamos on our book The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred. I had fun stirring the pot of color and in the back this book includes a recipe for Arroz Con Leche [Rice Pudding]. Pair Cazuela with these colorful 100% Mexican oilcloth aprons that are easy to clean and a rainbow wire whisk perfect for beating the egg yolks.
Don't forget to add the lime.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Here's the second installment of a dialogue started last July called thinking your way around the concept.
There is much to learn from looking and listening to the works of great artists, writers and musicians. Their journeys can add to your problem solving tool box. Through observation and practice many of these techniques and ideas started to appear intuitively in my own paintings. I long to spend an entire day-better yet two days wandering a place like the Chicago Art Institute. Great works of art reveal secrets that I often miss when looking at books or the Internet. Navigating through art galleries, literature and music is a method to record new observations and explore the twists and turns of
1. Hide a secret in your paintings.
Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte said "Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see but it is impossible. Humans hide their secrets too well". You have to admire the way Magritte embraced paradox in his works. I created this illustration for KQED in San Francisco and embedded a hidden bird in the collage of faces. That magical focal point serves as a sweet spot that symbolically connects the people together. Going a bit deeper Magritte's technique is like a whisper that you strain your ears to hear.
It engages the viewer.
2. Add a dose of raw emotion.
A form of German expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter was an impassioned style that challenged the passive notions of history with intensely emotional, brighter colors and shapes. These artists recognized the communicative power of primitive, folk and children's art. We Mexicans have a passion for masked heroes of the vox populi. I find it fascinating that cultures around the globe that are considered primitive or very civilized use masks in theatrical, ceremonial, religious and magical rites.
Masks both hide and reveal.
When I was 5 years old my mother used to dip my finger in a bit of tabasco and put it on my tongue. As time went on I began to crave that intensity of flavor and now work to channel that raw emotion into my paintings. When looking at what you are creating, challenge yourself to turn up the volume and see what happens.
3. Explore Allegories and Myths
An allegory is a story with a meaning partially hidden somewhere in the narration. Myths help explain rituals, natural events and why people believe what they do. As a child growing up in Mexico City, my family would throw parties with music and invited poets who would recite their work and tell stories. I remember Carlos Jaso who painted vivid pictures with both his words and voice. In my opinion, when you want to move your audience you have to weave a tale that is full of magic. Whatever you do-don't be literal but take the viewer on a visual journey. Thanks to the quests of my 9 year old son Santiago, I have once again become enamored with the ancient Greeks. They know how to spark the imagination of children and adults with spell-binding stories that reveal something well beyond literal meaning.
In this poster for an International Chamber Music Festival in Mexico I fused the supernatural mermaid who lives beneath the sea with the ethereal wings of an angel. In the tail you see a Mexican calaca or skull and tear drop shapes in the wings. An eye floats in a cloud over the head of this other-worldly creature who enchants the audience with the haunting sound of her violin.
4. Find the hidden essence of an idea through simplification.
So much of the beauty and finesse of illustration is knowing what to leave out. Too much information, and unnecessary details cast a shadow over your composition and obscure what is really important. The great painter Joan Miró created childlike renderings and symbolic reductions of whimsical form with calligraphic strokes and pure color.
Think about what you are adding to your work and how it contributes to the overall concept and emotional response you want to achieve.
The roots and origins of Merengue are conveyed in this simple composition evoking a stylized African mask, with the essential instruments and dancers stripped of detail.
5. Unleash the narrative in your paintings.
Frida Kahlo's work was a fusion of folktales, fantasy and surrealism woven in a powerful narrative. Her own biography reads like an epic Gabriel García Márquez novel and the power of the narrative was evident in her work. I grew up close to her home La Casa Azul in Coyocan and together with my parents we would visit often. Frida is considered a Mexican Surrealist but it was never her plan to be part of the movement. She painted instead the story of her life in a way that expressed her own personal feelings about it. I am struck by her affection for retablos or laminas that tell the stories of miraculous healing and rescue. Often painted by untrained artists an entire wall of her home is covered in these narrative treasures.
In this spread for an upcoming children's book, My Name is Tito for Harper Collins the dress of Celia Cruz tells the story of her life and exile from Cuba in a rainbow of colors that will appeal to children and express the azucar in her spirit and voice.
6. Employ a visual synonym.
Aristotle said "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." Symbolists favored spirituality, the imagination and dreams. They believed that art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Symbolist writers, poets and artists like the inspiring Austrian painter
Gustav Klimt used alluring metaphors that gave objects symbolic meaning.
In this illustration for the UTNE Reader I was challenged to convey the text of a complex concept. The antique dip pen became a symbol to express the angst of a blues songwriter and the ink is transformed into falling tears.
7. Scratching the surface
Texture is one of the most direct routes to the hidden emotions of your audience. Prolific painter Rufino Tamayo was influenced by Cubism, Impressionism, Pre-Columbian art and Fauvism. His work had an intrinsically Mexican style that ignited your senses. He left a rich legacy by expanding the technical and visual possibilities of arts by developing the Mixografia technique. This communicated the texture and volume of his designs and gave him the freedom to create strong identity in his work. In this personal piece Firedance I rely on tactile and visual texture to add a spark to the composition. I've collected a variety of tools including natural materials like shells, twigs, and feathers and also use pottery tools, masking tape and my xacto blade to give texture the surface of my paintings.