Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mary Blair, part 3

As promised, here are some of my favorite illustrations from I Can Fly, written by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by the venerable Mary Blair. Published in 1951, I Can Fly has never been out of print! You can see why.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bento bounty

I've been enjoying making summertime bentos for my lunch,
full of fresh fruit and cold salads. Perfect for this task is the
wondrously frufru bento box given to me by my girl Jenifer
last Christmas... it doesn't get photographed that much,
despite its cuteness, but I do use it a lot.

Left: hummus, carrot sticks, cherries, fried tofu, and chocolate chip banana bread.

Closed bento with crackers in the fork compartment.

Cherries and fried tofu.

Wrapped and ready.

Ben sticks with his usual bento, the original Laptop Lunch model. I
was excited to see that the Laptop Lunch people have come up with
system 2.0, and that more of the containers have lids! Tragically,
the new containers and lids are not compatible with the old.

Left: Mango-peach-strawberry salad, lemon bundt cake, garlic-almond rice pilaf, and chickpea and tomato salad.

Veggie pasta salad, chocolate muffin with fresh cherries, homemade hummus, fried tofu, and Ben's favorite kind of cracker.

More cherries, carrot sticks, chocolate chip banana bread, baba ganouj, and homemade focaccia bread.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mary Blair, part 2

Disney buffs might beg to differ, but I think Mary Blair's most beautiful and inventive images are her children's book illustrations. Blair's gift for color and composition are so evident in these clever designs (for example, in Little Verses, Baby's House, and--the sole subject of next week's third Mary Blair post--I Can Fly). Above: a spectacular spread from Little Verses. The flat planes of brilliant saturated color work as well as they do here because of the smart composition and the striking forms.

Below: two more pages from Little Verses. The illustration on the left is so imaginative and sweetly ornamental, with the floral forms and the bumblebees forming patterns of their own without stealing focus from the central character, a cherry blossom tree. And the illustration on the right is such a pleasure to look at because Blair has engineered movement into the composition; you eye knows exactly where to look, and when. With its focus on movement, this is one of those Mary Blair illustrations that reflects her many years of thinking like an animator (want to read a bit about her long and impressive career with Disney?).

Baby's House combines some of Blair's most decorative work with her unmistakable color style. With the exception of Paul Rand, no one does flat, geometric forms as beautifully as Mary Blair, and I think those qualities really stand out in BH. Below: cover design and two single-page illustrations from Baby's House. The image of Baby wrapped in a fuzzy towel is one of my favorite Blair illustrations because of the color contrasts, the patterning and skewed perspectives of the background elements, the shaping of the frame (it seems so spontaneous!), and, especially, of course, the gorgeous white space that creates the form of the towel. Just dazzling! And pure Mary Blair.

Next: if you've never seen Mary Blair's most celebrated children's book, I Can Fly, you're in for an unforgettable treat. My third Mary Blair post will be nothin' but ICF, a Little Golden Book so incredibly popular that, in the nearly sixty years since it was first published, it has never been out of print.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Mary Blair, part I

My girl Mary Blair, mention of whom you will find elsewhere
in the archives
, was an illustrator, animator, and commercial
artist known for her brilliant color designs. She illustrated
children's books, designed TV and print ads, and was a top
Disney artist.

Today's post focuses on Blair's work for Disney. During her
nearly forty-year relationship with the Disney company, Blair
created concept art and color styling for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Song of the South. She also
designed Disney's It's a Small World attraction, and
was was one of Walt's favorite employees; he loved
her use of flat (but brilliant) color and her geometric
compositions, although they were difficult to translate into
Disney's more perspective-based animation style. Below are a
few concept drawings Blair did for Alice and Cinderella:

Left: early character designs for Cinderella.

Left and below: concept drawings for the marching cards, an oversized Alice, and the tea party from Alice in Wonderland.

These concept sketches give you a peek at Blair's genius for color. Among her many artistic gifts (including an amazing flair for creating beautiful compositions), I think it's really her talent for color design* that has brought about the enduring reverence of illustrators and animators all over the world. Even today, Blair's influence is evident in, for example, the abiding Disney palette.

Mary Blair was honored as a "Disney legend" in 1991, one of the first women to receive the honor.

I'll post three more Mary Blair posts in this series. We've still got her children's books and TV and print ads to look at!

Sources: Cartoon Modern, Animation Archive, Wikipedia, Sullivan Goss, this photoset on Flickr, this book, and this book.

* Allegedly, Blair was such a color enthusiast that she used to wear colored contact lenses -- blue, green, whatever matched her outfit. This was in the 1960s!

Two bentos and a story

Ben, who I believe loves taking a delicious homemade lunch
to work, and says he absolutely does not find the bento
box embarrassing, told me this story re: a recent workplace

Another attorney in his office-- let's call her Betty --
saw Ben opening his lunch. Checking out the individual
containers of food that my husband was about to enjoy,
Betty squinted and asked, "Do you make those? Are you
really anal-retentive or something?"

"Actually," Ben informed her, "my wife makes them for
me. So I think the word you're looking for is lucky."

I love it. But it's weird how many people think it's
strange to bring one's lunch to work or school. People
find the bento box format especially weird, it seems.
But who cares? Let those people enjoy their frozen
microwave lunch, or spend $10 going to a restaurant
for lunch every day. That's not our way.

Below: sautéed seitan, blueberry muffin, peanuts and
walnuts, spinach couscous, and chickpea and tomato salad.

Below: overexposed photo of black bean and spinach
salad, chocolate cupcake, carrot sticks, and rotini
pasta salad with peas.

Monday, July 06, 2009

We both needed 17 questions

Ben and I spent the afternoon of July 4th at the Walker's sculpture garden, and inside checking out the Fluxus exhibit. On the way home, the sky opened up and we were caught in a chilly downpour! Huddled under an awning on Hennepin Avenue, we played Twenty Questions until the rain subsided.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Tempeh nouveau

Above: my new way to treat tempeh. I'm always hankering for different means of preparing tempeh. Usually, we do something like this: crumble the tempeh into a large Pyrex with a ton of olive oil, some tamari, a bit of sesame oil and Sriracha, and as many coarsely-chopped potatoes, carrots, onions, and green beans as will fit in the pan. Bake for thirty minutes, combine with rice. It's seriously tasty, especially considering how little prep work the dish requires. I've tried other ways of preparing tempeh, but it's hard to infuse the stuff with flavor while keeping it in cutlet form.

Tonight I made another attempt (photo above!). This is panko-crusted tempeh over a garlic-almond sweet potato crepe, with fresh spinach and a red wine reduction.

The reduction sauce was great, and so was the sweet potato-spinach combination. The tempeh was good -- not great, but good. Dryness and medium-low flavor are perennial problems with tempeh dishes, and they reared their ugly heads here, too! Next time, I'll make ample sauce to serve over the tempeh, or perhaps a variation of the French Meadow's blood orange reduction, and when I dredge* the tempeh in preparation for baking, I'll saturize my flour mixture with lots more spices (this time, it was just a pinch each of thyme, paprika, garlic powder, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne -- a good mixture, but I could have doubled the quantity!).

* A recipe note: before dredging the sliced tempeh, boil it for 10-15 minutes. Let it cool, then coat it like this... set up three bowls: the first contains soy milk, the second contains about 1/3 c. flour with your choice of spices, and the third is a bowl of panko crumbs. Take a piece of tempeh and dunk it in the soy milk. Then dredge it in the flour mixture. Then dunk it in the soy milk again (quickly). Finally, dredge it in the panko crumbs. Place in a lightly oiled pan. Repeat. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, turning the tempeh halfway through.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Living and breathing

My bookmaking/printmaking/papermaking class is a real hoot. I've already learned a few types of screenprinting, Western and Japanese papermaking (Japanese is outrageously difficult, but Western is a lot of fun), and a bit of basic bookbinding. Above is my first book, an accordion-style artist's book about -- your favorite subject and mine -- photosynthesis. Although accordion books are commonly regarded as the most useless type of books, they're relatively easy to make and they've got a really artsy vibe.

The covers are screenprinted on mulberry paper, and the interior* is a heavier Arches paper. As for the interior, I created a sequence (in yellows, blues, and greens) of images based on scientific diagrams and photographs of plant cells, hydrogen and oxygen molecules, and other relevant biological forms, like chlorophyll and the glucose created by green plants. I'm fascinated by how this narrative is composed of elements (characters?) that are simultaneously realistic (e.g. the golgi complex of a plant cell actually looks like the long, squiggy worms I screenprinted on page three!) and abstract -- that is, they become abstract if you (like me) know very little about science and do not recognize the forms. I discovered that many of the biological forms I worked with also lent themselves to patterning, so the forms are abstracted in that way, too.

Above, at the very tippy-top, is my finished book. Below are my screenprinted cover (before cutting and turning into book boards) and, below that, my original digital sketch. I kind of like the sketch as a stand-alone illustration; it has a softness and a transparency that's very different from the screenprinted book cover. In both versions, I was aiming for a cut-paper look, perhaps because of all of the mid-century Paul Rand stuff I've been looking at. (More blogging about Rand here.)

* 8 pages, not shown here.