Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thank you, Irvin Kerlan!

This morning I spent several hours looking, white-gloved, through boxes of original illustrations by some of my favorite children's book illustrators at the Kerlan. Theirs is one of the largest collections of children's book literature and illustrations in the world!

The pieces donated by Richard Scarry were my favorite. I've long admired his hilariously anthropomorphized watercolor-and-ink animals, and was really looking forward to seeing some of his original artwork today. What I found in the Richard Scarry boxes was a real treasure... no photos allowed, but I took mental snapshots of:

a) a "miscellaneous" (i.e. unpublished) painting featuring HUMANS! If you love Richard Scarry, you know that this is extremely rare! And...
b) a number of original, completed illustrations from Busy People. These really show Scarry's process. There were two layers to each image: watercolor on one sheet of paper, with ink line drawings on a transparent overlay. I noticed that he did all of his pencils with non-photo blue pencil. (An hour later, I was in the art supply store buying non-photo blue pencils.) AND...
c) An ink and watercolor book jacket study. It was for Tinker and Tanker out West (1961), a picture book I've yet to come across. The back of the jacket, featuring a few buffalo dressed in traditional Native American dress, had me in stitches. Scarry's mastery of visual gags is just unrivaled, you know?

I also pawed through a ton of Gustaf Tenggren's work. Tenggren was a classic Little Golden Books go-to illustrator during the Golden Age of the LGB.* And man, he did some great books, including The Tawny Scrawny Lion and, most famously, The Poky Little Puppy. Today I got the chance to look through all of the originals for The Poky Little Puppy, and that shit is beautiful! He even gave the Kerlan a few extra illustrations done for the book that didn't make it into the final picture book. I mean, Tenggren just drew that fkg puppy over and over and over and over.

Ooh, I also saw tons of Eric Carle originals! Nothing featuring the famously hungry caterpillar, but many beautiful cut-paper pieces from The Secret Birthday Wish. The back of one of those illustrations was scribbled with notes by Carle about how he'd had to repair the piece because he'd run into some archival issues. "I used to use rubber cement," he wrote, "but I didn't know that " " didn't last." The " " marks were beneath the words "rubber cement," to repeat them. Anyway, it was followed by the illustrator's revised glue recipe, which I can't remember. Something scientific-sounding + a bit of Elmer's glue, I think. Carle also wrote about how he stopped using "tinted" tissue papers, because the tint isn't lightfast, and began using only tissue paper painted with acrylic (which is what I always thought he did anyway).

Next time I visit this collection, I've got to get my hands on the Beatrix Potter collection. Can you imagine?! All of those lovely watercolors! And bunnies in jackets!** Anyway, that part of the collection was in use today. I'd also like to see anything they've got by Felix Darley or Howard Pyle... how'd I forget to request those boxes?

* Tenggren drew for Disney, too! Much like my FAVORITE illustrator ever, Mary Blair, whose work is so expensive and in demand that the Kerlan hasn't been able to acquire any of it. Here's some more of her work, and yet more...
** Incidentally, Richard Scarry was a great admirer of Beatrix Potter. Who isn't, though, I suppose?

Friday, June 26, 2009

On Michael

Thriller was huge when I was in elementary school
at Cleveland's St. Michael parish school in the early
'80s. I mean HUGE. Even I, whose record collection
consisted of a handful of read-along-with-me
Fisher-Price records, was familiar with the songs
on Thriller.*

A few years later, my friends and I were all hysterical about acquiring the "We Are the World" record. (Yes, record... and not in a "we're so punk we only buy vinyl" way, but in an "it's 1985 and tapes have barely been invented yet" way.) Vivid is my memory of a birthday party at Julie Hilberg's house, where a fanatic crowd of pre-teen girls, of which I was one, played and replayed the seven-inch, singing along badly but enthusiastically. We reluctantly tore ourselves away when our various parents picked us up at 8 PM.

As an adult, I've rarely thought about Michael Jackson without wincing. For decades now, the guy has been both horrifying and piteous, and probably a sex offender. In a phrase, intensely troubled. But it's hard to sever the emotional connections that we have made with music, so I and others will continue to have a place in our hearts for the best of MJ's pop songs. Have you seen that dumb Jennifer Garner movie, 13 Going on 30? If so, you remember the actually-really-cute club scene where everyone is too cool to cut a rug until the DJ starts spinning songs from Thriller.** For me, that scene works as a microcosm for the public's relationship with MJ... even when you don't want to, even when it isn't cool, you just can't help shaking your ass to some of those dance songs.

Because I don't want this blog entry to come off as a loving tribute to a guy, intensely troubled or not, who almost certainly molested children for Chrissakes, I have to include the 2004-ish "I'm done with Michael" riff by the skillful Chris Rock. Watch and listen here.

* Hell, even my friend Donna, growing up in the Soviet Bloc around the same time, knew those songs. "Michael was my first connection to life outside of communism," she says.

** I heard a story similar--extremely similar--to this on NPR on the day of Michael Jackson's death. Some reporter with a sincerity-leaden Sarah Vowell voice recounted being in a club where everyone refused to dance until the DJ played "Thriller." I was like, that didn't happen to you! That's a scene from that Jennifer Garner movie!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Sister Wendy

You know about Sister Wendy, right? She's the nun you've
seen standing in front of famous works of art on PBS,
speaking brilliantly and eloquently (if with a charming
tendency toward derhotacization) about the
history of painting

I love this woman. Honestly, she's one of my heroes. Her
insightful descriptions of famous works always teach me
something about the paintings, and I'm often moved to tears
by her profound intuition and razor-sharp analyses. Really,
this lady is special. One of my favorite things about Sister
Wendy's study and explanation of the paintings is this: one
might expect a nun to shy away from the bawdier subjects,
but she doesn't. She'll describe how Venus and Apollo just
got done doin' it in a Renaissance-era pastoral scene,
she does not care. But, unsurprisingly, she does bring a
strong understanding of spirituality to her interpretations,
and we viewers often find Sister Wendy pointing at paintings
containing Biblical subject matter (there are so very many
of them!). What's unexpected, though, is how powerful her
stories, including her Biblical interpretations, can be even
for people like me who haven't been to church since being
liberated from Catholic school in 1985.

I did a three-page comic about Sister Wendy last year, and
recently revised it for publication in Not My Small
. But I don't think there's any harm in granting
a sneak peek to the six people who read my blog. About
freaking time you got a perk or two, right? Well, we'll see
if you call it a perk after you've read it. Click to enlarge,
else there's no damn way you'll be able to read the lettering.
Good night and good luck!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Vegan turtles

Enjoy this vegan candy recipe, a fave at our house. For more vegan sweetie-sweets, you're also gonna want to go look at these orange creamsicle cupcakes, double dark chocolate brownies, and chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes. Trust me!

Vegan turtles

60 walnuts or pecans (or so)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. Earth Balance
1/4 c. soy milk (or rice milk or almond milk)
1 t. vanilla
2 c. vegan dark chocolate chips

Arrange the nuts in a single layer on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then, still on top of the wax paper, arrange the nuts in little mounds, three or four walnuts or pecans to each mound. They should be piled up on one another a little, not just grouped together in a flat group.

Next, make the caramel. Over medium-low heat, slowly melt the sugar in a heavy pot, stirring occasionally with a spatula. Slowly, the sugar will begin to get gooey, then liquify. When that happens, reduce heat to low and stir in the Earth Balance and the soy milk. When combined, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

If your caramel solidifies at any point while you're making the turtles, return it to the burner over medium-low and melt it again.

Carefully spoon a bit of the caramel over each mound of walnuts or pecans. You'll have enough caramel that you can be generous with this! Next, stick the pan of turtles in the 'fridge to cool for 30 minutes or more.

Next, cover the candies in chocolate: melt the chocolate chips, about a cup at a time, in a small pan over low heat -- or use a double boiler. Then either drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of each turtle while the candies are still on the wax paper (the bottoms won't get covered if you do it this way) OR remove each turtle from the wax paper and dip it in the chocolate. Place on wax paper and allow to cool again.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Here, kitty.

Somehow, this creepy froglike thing, a work in progress, is
going to turn into a sassy stuffed tabby. That's my
objective, at least. But now that classes have resumed for
the summer, I need to wrap up this stuffed animal-assembling
chapter of my summer; otherwise, I know from experience that
I'll become busy with illustration work and leave these half-
finished knitting projects sitting around until Christmas, at
which point I'll try to resume production but will have
forgotten how I was doing any of it. It has happened with more
than one sweater, at least one pair of gloves, and a certain
"chenille sheepie" that has gone unattended since 2007. So I
want to finish up this feline fella soon. Maybe tonight, while
extravagantly watching the last five episodes* of 30 Rock's
second season?

* Do you think I can't watch five episodes in one evening? Because I can.