Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa Claus...A Look Through Time

With Christmas just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the evolving image of Santa Claus over the many years.  Illustrators have played a crucial role in shaping our modern day perception of jolly ol' Saint Nick.  While today we think of him as a rotund man in a red suit, white trim, and durable, dark brown boots, the joyous man in the white beard riding his sleigh on Christmas Eve did not always appear as such.  While Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore established a literary image of Mr. Claus, it was Thomas Nast's series of Santa Claus drawings for Harper's Weekly between 1863 and 1886 that established the look of the modern day icon.

Prior to the twentieth century, however, Santa Claus' image was far from consistent. Arthur Rackham's Kris Kringle offers a European interpretation of the jolly soul.  One of fantasy's most influential illustrators, the British Rackham presented Santa Claus as a mystical, tall, slender fellow dressed in a long, flowing robe, with white trim noticeably absent.  It would take one of the United States' most important illustrators to establish, with finality, the true image of Santa.

During the second decade of the twentieth century, J.C. Leyendecker offered the world a glimpse of the new Santa Claus; a man both jolly and round, with a noticeably ruddy complexion, dressed in a red suit (white trim included), a red cap, and the signature belt and boots.  Indeed, the world now had a universal Kris Kringle! As Leyendecker continued to present this appealing new look, via the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, the public accepted this image as the one and only Saint Nick.

The success of Leyendecker's interpretation was reaffirmed during the 1930's, during which Coca-Cola launched an unforgettable marketing campaign that incorporated the jolly man in red into their illustrated advertisements.  Haddon Sundblom, illustrator of the Coca-Cola Santa, utilized the Leyendecker model to achieve a highly effective visual of Santa Claus. The red and white of his suit worked perfectly with the corporate colors of Coca-Cola.  So successful was this iconic advertising campaign, that even today we continue to associate the American beverage with Mr. Claus.

Of course, no discussion on the golden age of illustration is complete without mentioning Norman Rockwell, who further continued the formulaic model of Saint Nick.  Where once, many years past, Leyendecker's Santas adorned the covers of the Saturday Evening Post, now those of one of his most avid, talented fans graced their covers.  The evolution of Santa was now complete!

Cutler, Laurence and Judy Goffman Cutler. J.C. Leyendecker. New York: Abrams, 2008.
Finch, Christopher.  Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1994.
Menges, Jeff A. The Arthur Rackham Treasury. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2005.
Myers, Robert J. "Santa Claus." The World Book Encyclopedia: S-Sn. Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1990.
Vann, Bill and Dan Zimmer. "The Art of Haddon Sundblom." Illustration, Spring 2008. 


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is that a Turkey Wearing a Santa Suit?!

I thought I'd have a little fun with this post and toss a seasonal sketch up. Anyone wondering what happened to the many Turkeys who escaped the Thanksgiving meal may have their answer here. Just make sure to look at those Santas at the malls closely. You never know who may be hiding behind that beard and suit!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Portrait for Your Thoughts

Portraits are always a challenging endeavor. And, regardless of how much experience an artist might have, they continue to teach us new things.  Although there are general anatomical rules to follow, it's always interesting to observe, and render, the unique differences that distinguish us from each other. Whether it's a slightly larger ear lobe or a thinner upper lip, it's these variations that make portraiture, and character design, so fun! Indeed, it's easy to get lost, as an illustrator, in one's own style, neglecting the critical role naturalistic work, such as portraits and still lifes, play in our development as artists. To continue drawing and painting the world around us only helps to further our growth and creativity as artists. In crafting a style, these studies are an invaluable tool in learning the rules of nature and anatomy.  That knowledge set makes it far easier to successfully stylize one's artwork. As the saying goes, "To break the rules you must first learn them."
In the coming months, I'll be working on several more portraits while continuing my illustration projects. My sister, Marie, happily posed for this sketch.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2011

This week, the New York Times released their annual Best Illustrated Children's Books list for 2011.  These are some beautifully illustrated books with excellent stories to boot! The list includes some personal favorites, Kadir Nelson and Lane Smith.  Both consistently put out work that is well rendered, creatively composed, and fun to both view and read.  Kadir Nelson's We Are the Ship (2008) is a gorgeous book about Negro League baseball and the many challenges they had to overcome during a period of deep racism and inequality.  On the other end of the spectrum,  Lane Smith's John, Paul, George, and Ben (2006), is a hilarious, educational, well illustrated, read about America's founding fathers.  Although these are "older" books, they are worth mentioning.
Though I only mentioned a few illustrators, the list shows the varying styles and uniquely creative abilities that each illustrator displays in their respective books. From Frank Viva's highly stylized, effective artwork in Along a Long Road to the warm, inviting style of Patrick McDonell's Me...Jane, all of these artists display an adept ability to beautifully illuminate their stories.  There is so much talent out there, it is quite an accomplishment to be mentioned on this list! So, check these books out, sit down with your kids, and jump into the wonderful world of picture books!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! As a child, Halloween night is always an exciting time.  All of the preparation, from choosing a costume and setting up the festive decorations to carving a face on your pumpkin, leads up to that one night.  And when it comes, we can't wait for the school bell to ring and for classes to end so we may finally dress up and embark on our quest to trick or treat throughout the neighborhood! As an artist, I was always tried to think of new, creative faces to carve on my next Halloween pumpkin.  Once my designs were ready, my father and I would lay out the newspaper, gather the carving tools, and begin the facelift.  Looking back, whether it's carving out the pumpkin or trick or treating, Halloween can be quite the bonding experience between parents and children.  Hopefully the snow won't dampen the festivities too much up here in the northeast.  So, for all those kids young and old alike, be safe, have a fun time, and make those costumes good!    

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Art Show and Character Studies (What This Illustrator Does in His Free Time!)

The opening reception for the Hartford Art School Alumni Juried Exhibition went very well! There was a nice turnout.  The show contains a wide variety of styles and media.  For anyone interested, there is a exhibition catalog available for purchase at the following link:
2011 Hartford Art School Alumni Juried Exhibition Catalog

I'm placing a few more character studies / model sheets that I used as part of the Graduation series.  Seeing that one of the illustrations in the series, Graduation Celebration, is up in the alumni show, I thought it fitting to include a few more sketches that contributed to the development of both the characters and the story.

The rabbit was a fun character to design.  He is one of three teachers (the owl and the turtle are the other two), that the child dreams up.  While both scholarly and wise, he also has a good sense of humor and enjoys having a little fun.

When working on character studies, the challenge is to successfully create a personality that can be associated with your creations.  Poise, emotions, proportions, clothing, and so on all play an important role in creating a unique individual whom one can see living and interacting in his or her respective environment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The 2011 Hartford Art School Alumni Juried Exhibition

The 2011 Hartford Art School Alumni Juried Exhibition opens next week! One of my illustrations, Graduation Celebration, will be on display, along with the artwork of many talented artists who used to walk the halls of the art school.  The show will be on view from October 10 to October 25, with the opening reception on Wednesday, October 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  The awards ceremony will take place at 7 p.m, during the opening reception.  Below is the address for the exhibition.  Please stop by and take a look. You won't be disappointed!

The Silpe Gallery
Hartford Art School / University of Hartford
200 Bloomfield Avenue
West Hartford, CT

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Beginning of a Journey: The Art of the Character Model Sheet

The website is online, my Facebook fan page is running, and I'm now an official blogger! Thank you for stopping by and checking things out.  In the coming weeks, I'll be posting the latest news along with random sketches and doodles.  From time to time, I may also babble dotingly about great artists and the history of illustration. Being a history guy, I tend to subconsciously do that! 
Today, I have chosen to post a character model sheet of the owl teacher, who appears in my story of a small girl and her daydreams of a graduation ceremony. When working on character models, you learn just how beautiful this world really is. Birds are impressive creatures! From the stunning beauty of their feathers to the effective structure of their talons, I quickly appreciated the complexity of drawing such a subject. 
Anytime I work on a story, I try to construct these sketches to provide me with a three dimensional image of the character. It is an essential tool for all storytellers.  Some of the best model sheets, though, come from the animation studios. Looking at the stunning pre production work of the classic Walt Disney films and Looney Tunes shorts, just to name a few, serve as both an inspiration and a guide! Paper Dreams by John Canemaker and the Illusion of Life by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas are excellent examples of this.  
Well, it looks like I went off on another history tangent again. I better stop before I find myself writing The History of Illustration vol. 1!