why people draw: “Funny Bones” with artist John Kascht


Today, instead of a new “why people draw” interview (stay tuned for a new one coming up very soon!), I wanted to share with you this film by renowned and veteran illustrator John Kascht. Kascht says he “has spent an embarrassing amount of time studying famous faces. In fact, I’ve made a career out of our collective obsession with them.” His watercolor caricatures hang in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, which brings this fantastic film (and a place that’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in Washington, D.C.).  In this film John Kascht explains his process and approach to caricature—using Conan O’Brien as his subject. It’s definitely worth watching for many reasons: the way Kascht studies body, gestures, expressions, and personality; the process he undergoes to “build” his caricatures—both in 2D and 3D; the manner in which he immerses himself in his subjects; his painting style. It’s all fascinating.

Hope you’ll enjoy this video. It’s about 30 minutes long, so make sure you give yourself the time to watch it and absorb it. Perhaps rewind it and watch it again!

See you on Friday!

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one sheep, two sheep, three sheep…

Hello and Happy Friday!

Some of you might be getting ready to start a long weekend…while some of you probably don’t get Columbus Day off.  I just read that in Canada it’s Thanksgiving Day that same day…I like that better. Happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians out there!

Interestingly enough, today’s animated short is about strangers from another land (or I guess, in this case, planet) coming to take away what’s most valuable to a farmer on Earth–his beloved sheep.  Titled “Sheeped Away” this funny and highly entertaining animation is by Dutch animator Junaid Chundrigar.  I really like Junaid’s statement about his short:

“The whole point of making Sheeped away was to make a tribute of sorts, to the old American cartoons I grew up with. They were not necessarily made for children but neither were they unwatchable for them. I wanted to make something like that. Something for both adults and kids. And adult kids like me.”

I think I’ve mentioned before that I love cartoon sheep.  Junaid’s sheep are awesome-looking, and even better-sounding.  The story is fun and at times over the top, and it reminds me of a night my friend Jen and I were driving back to Purdue (in Indiana) from her house near Lansing, Michigan…I was in the passenger seat, Jen was driving, and as I looked out the window towards the dark cornfields, it struck me (and I used my “indoor but outside my head” voice so Jen could hear me: “what if all of the sudden a UFO whirled by (imagine it making the sound that the Jetsons’s space vehicles made) and sucked up a cow or two up into its beam, and we were there to witness it?” I thought it was a perfectly normal question to ask. After all, isn’t it always in the middle of Nowhereville that UFO’s tend to appear, or leave signs of having been there?  Jen, on the other hand, thought I was on something, laughed, mocked me, and confirmed her suspicions that I had more than one screw loose in my noggin.’ Ahh, friends, you gotta love them!

Oh well…thanks to animations like “Sheeped Away” I feel understood (I just corrected a typo…I typed “understoon” first—I think that should be the term for when you make sense of the world in terms of cartoons! Ooh! I hope it catches on! Take note Webster’s Dictionary!)

But now I’m getting distracted, or side-tracked, or something.  So here it is…Junaid Chundrigar’s animated short “Sheeped Away.” Enjoy it! Watch how funny it is when the sheep get sucked up as if they were in one of those plexy vacuum tubes at the drive-through bank teller…

If you get a chance, check out Junaid’s other links.  And check out the deleted scenes video–you’ll see much more sketchy-drawn version of scenes (animatics–or animated storyboards), and see how his design for the main character and the sheep changed along the way. It’s neat to see those details.

imaJunation Site
imaJunation Blog
Sheeped Away site
imaJunation’s YouTube Channel

Posted in a bit of rambling, animation, artists | Comments Off

why people draw: annalisa crannell & marc frantz

Hello again!

It has been a pretty busy last few days. Over the weekend, Thom and I started tackling our future collaborator’s nursery! We are so excited about how it’s turning out, we go back in a couple of times each day to relish in it. Very fun. We’re super psyched about the colors we have chosen, and the imagery that will go on the wall. I’m currently working on stencils for those images, which takes me back to my many years of doing installation work which required lots and lots of cutting with an x-acto knife. I’m really enjoying it (minus the occasional “flesh wounds!”).

I’ve also been sorting through all the baby loot that Nina gave me last week! Yikes! It’s funny to see all the month ranges that exist in little kids’ clothes: 0 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 6, 6, 6 to 9, 9, 9 to 12 and so on and so forth. I love to categorize things, but even that gets a little confusing. But in the end, it’s getting done, and it makes me feel quite accomplished! Ha! Ha!

Today, I’m so, so excited to present to you a new “why people draw” that is such a wonderful example of how drawing is not just art, but is rather a wonderful visualizing, knowledge-sharing, enlightening thinking tool. Mathematicians Annalisa Crannell from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, and Marc Frantz from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN share their thoughts on drawing, and how they have designed ways to teach math concepts to teachers and college students through drawing! They also discuss how drawing plays a part in their own process of solving problems.

This summer, Thom and I spent a long weekend in Lancaster, PA. On our way to lunch the first day, we saw the entrance to Franklin & Marshall College and it made us curious to know what type of school it is. Thanks to our trusty iPhone I did a Google search right away…what’s interesting is that on the College’s home page there was a slide show of stories, one of which, coincidentally, happened to be about Annalisa Crannell’s involvement in this research about combining math and art. As you can imagine, I was immediately hooked, and I just knew that once I’d get home, I’d contact her and Marc about doing a “why people draw” interview.

Lucky for me, both Annalisa and Marc were happy to participate, and I’m so glad they did. Even though they did this interview separately, they were able to establish a really nice conversation between the two of them through their answers. For those people who love math, as well as for those who might not care for it as much because of past experiences, you’ll find that their approach to math concepts and their use of drawing as a way to facilitate understanding is such a welcome idea. I also hope that there are teachers and parents out there reading this who will be inspired to go deeper into this reality that drawing can have a place in all classrooms, not just the art room!


So, without much more from me, here they are (drum, drum, drum) Annalisa Crannell and Marc Frantz in their own words and images. Thank you Annalisa and Marc for taking time to share such interesting ideas as part of the “why people draw” series!

HW: What’s your earliest memory of drawing (of being able to draw)?

AC: Actually, art doesn’t figure very large in my early memories.

I’m sure I drew a lot as a young child, but my first real memory of drawing comes from a 7th grade art class. I was with one of my smart alecky friends, Mary. The teacher gave us a pre-test with the question, ”Can you name any Renaissance artists?” and Mary’s one word answer was “Yes”. (The teacher changed the wording of the question on the post-test). I remember the song “She’s a brick House” blaring on the radio in that class. I also remember drawing a geometric design once, but I don’t remember any of the other drawings we did.

I seemed to move into drawing in my professional life without any real awareness of my own drawing biography.

MF: During my first years of school, my dad was training to be a programmer on one of the early business computers. He would bring home reams of typing paper for my brother and myself to draw on, and he would let us use his flow chart template; it said “Remington Rand Univac.” It was ideal for drawing spaceships. I used the Display symbol for a space capsule; the start/end symbol for elongated fuel tanks; the On-Page Reference symbol for spherical fuel tanks, the Manual Operation Symbol for rocket nozzles, and the Data symbol for fins. With these, even a little kid could make great-looking drawings. That’s when I first realized the power of algorithms in drawing. (An algorithm is a process that is done the same way each time, like long division in math, or dry-on-wet in watercolor.)

HW: What sparked the idea to create a course and workshops combining art, drawing and mathematics?

AC: Indirectly, the reason is that I was trying to find ways to engage my students with problems that were more immediate and tangible than the usual “When do truck A and truck B meet?” questions. Lancaster, Pennsylvania is rich with quilts that have wonderful mathematical structures sewn into them, so quilts make a great subject for a math class. Constructing these quilts requires a deep, if intuitive, sense of geometry, algorithm, and symmetry; each of these aspects has profound mathematical meaning. (The quilts are pretty to look at, too! I wonder if the people who made them thought about that? Hmm…)

I wound up in Indiana on one of my sabbaticals at the same time that Indiana University was applying for an NSF grant. Their big idea was to have mathematicians partner with people from other disciplines to do mathematics in context. I was already hooked on the idea, and I latched onto a brilliant guy named Marc Frantz. He’d already gotten an MFA from the Herron School of Fine Art and a Masters in Mathematics. Together, we started working on a course.

Pretty quickly, I switched over from quilts to perspective. I was following Marc’s lead: he realized that there was REALLY neat mathematics there that few mathematicians knew about, and I was intrigued.

MF: When Annalisa was visiting my school (IUPUI) on sabbatical, I got curious and began poking around the Franklin & Marshall College website. I saw that she regularly taught mathematics courses that required students to write, and write well, about what they did. (If you can’t explain a math problem in words, then you probably don’t understand it.) Her sample problems and advice about writing were spot-on.
I was impressed that someone could design a course so creatively, and envious that they would even be allowed to. Then from out of the blue, Annalisa and I were asked to create a math and art course as part of a big, National Science Foundation-sponsored project.

Filled with adrenaline, I began by revisiting some ideas that had worried me in art school. We learned perspective drawing as a bag of tricks, but with very little understanding (at least on my part). When I began reviewing these tricks, I realized that there was a lot of fascinating math behind them. We began formulating drawing problems that could be used as carrots to entice students to learn mathematics.

HW: What are some of the things you have learned about the human process of drawing and seeing throughout your research and teaching?

AC: One of the big things I’ve learned is that drawing takes time. And that’s good. It slows you down and can be meditative. Not many people think that solving algebra problem after algebra problem is much fun, but drawing many, many windows in a building is a satisfying kind of repetition.

Drawing helps my students learn to do what I do with my own mathematical research. When I’m stuck on a problem, I keep drawing picture after picture, hoping that one of them will be the construction that explains the underlying situation in a way that I want. It’s only after I’ve drawn a gazillion pictures (is “gazillion” a highly technical mathematical term?) that I finally “see” the answer. Then I can try to explain it to others. In the same way, my students learn to spend a lot of time drawing and drawing cool perspective pictures, and by doing this they internalized the underlying geometry.

MF: The insights that have most influenced the way I see the world have come from fractal geometry. Michael Barnsley began his textbook Fractals Everywhere by saying, “Fractal Geometry will make you see everything differently. There is danger in reading further.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Once you’ve learned about fractals—shapes that are made of smaller copies of themselves, like trees are made of branches—there’s no going back.  After that, you see fractals everywhere: in trees, clouds, mountains, lightning, even in the kitchen (cauliflower and broccoli). Interestingly, the artists beat the mathematicians to this discovery. Asian artists, particularly Japanese woodblock artists in the nineteenth century, often formalized natural shapes as symbols virtually identical to fractals studied today.

HW: What is your definition of drawing? Has your definition changed after your research? If so, in what way(s)?

AC: I don’t think I want to define drawing, but I can describe what drawing means to me. For me, the act of drawing is a way of exploring ideas, and a finished drawing is a way of conveying ideas. These ideas could be a sense of space (as in many of my students’ perspective drawings) or a mathematical theorem (think about drawing the Pythagorean Theorem) or a sense of structure (as in drawing trees or mountains using fractal algorithms).

I don’t know that my research has changed the meaning that drawing has for me, but working with Marc has certainly enhanced my appreciation of drawing as a powerful intellectual tool.

MF: Sometimes a drawing is referred to as a “study.” I feel now more than ever that drawing and studying are inextricably linked. When I want to understand something better, whether it’s something in the real world or an idea in mathematics, I almost always take pencil and paper and make a drawing of some kind. That’s just my way of relating to things and ideas.

HW: In what ways has your own appreciation for art been enhanced by teaching a mathematical approach to looking at it?

AC: I think I described above the appreciation I have for the act of drawing. Teaching perspective from a mathematical point of view has also taught me how much more I can get from a painting by looking at it from many distances: getting up close to look at the brush strokes, getting way far back to see the whole composition, and also finding the perfect middle ground where the painting “pops” into perfect perspective, where I feel like I’m actually standing in that cathedral pictured on the canvas.

teachers in a gallery mentally tracing appropriate lines by holding up shish kebab skewers during a "mathematics & art workshop" (photo courtesy marc frantz)

MF: I agree with Annalisa that it’s a revelation to see a good work in perspective, viewing with just one eye from the viewpoint—the place from which the painting has an incredible sense of depth. One of my former art professors said she was in a gallery in Italy that had tiles on the floor to show you where to stand in order to do this. For the most part, however, the experience is a well-kept secret, as are the geometric techniques used to find the viewpoints. I never get tired of treating friends to a viewpoints tour of my local art museum, and hearing their gasps of astonishment. That’s where the title of our book came from.

once the viewpoint is determined, students can enjoy the painting from that spot, as one of marc's former classes did at the indianapolis museum of art (photo courtesy marc frantz)

HW: Could you explain, in layman’s terms, how projective and fractal geometry relate to drawing?

AC: “Projective geometry” describes how we project the three-dimensional world around us onto a two-dimensional canvas. Cameras do this all the time, and they can do it with any shape, including a human face. Projective geometry handles mostly the part of the world that is points and lines. Because of that, my students draw a lot of man-made objects: buildings, letters, furniture, etc.

“Fractal geometry” is better at dealing with natural objects, particularly objects with neat textures. The word “fractal” comes from the same root word as “fracture”; it describes things like broccoli or clouds, where if you break a little piece off, that piece looks like the whole thing. Fractal drawings contain a lot of repetition at smaller and smaller scales, like drawing a big tree that has branches, each of which has tinier branches.

MF: I couldn’t do better than Annalisa’s explanation.

HW: Could you describe the objective and the process of doing tape drawings on windows that you ask your students to do?

AC: I could stand up in front of my students and say, “When you draw a picture of lines going away from you, you have to use a vanishing point.” But that’s not the best way to teach: it’s boring, and the students think I’m telling them some weird, arbitrary rule.

Instead, Marc and I have our students work in groups to create a drawing of what they see in the world. One student (the “art director”) stands about 4 to 6 feet from a large window. The other students put drafting tape on the window where the art director sees edges of buildings and other objects outside. From the art director’s position, the tape lines up exactly with lines in the outside world. When the students are finished with their picture, I can show them that THEY created this thing we’ll eventually call the vanishing point. So they are telling me how to draw the world; I’m not telling them.

student as "art director" standing in front of windows, rooted to the spot, with one eye closed (photo courtesy marc frantz)

student "art director" directs their team of "artists" to outline on the window the view of the world they see with their one, immobilized eye (photo courtesy marc frantz)

We come back to the window-taping day over and over in our class. Almost everything else we do builds on their own experience that day, not on some textbook definitions and rules of perspective.

"drawing" with masking tape to help make straight lines and minimize the mess (photo courtesy marc frantz)

a "sketch" marc made with a former student (photo courtesy marc frantz)

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running? (What gets you itching to draw or create?)

AC: I start drawing when I want to solve a problem. For example, right now I’m trying to understand how a thing called a “projective colineation” can come from a series of things called “perspective colineations”. I’m really, really stuck—and that’s actually sort of fun. I’m drawing lots of pictures to try to get unstuck, and by drawing these pictures I’m learning more and more about the problem. The pictures aren’t beautiful in the usual sense, but for me they contain some deep mathematical meaning, and that meaning is important to me.

projective colineation (courtesy annalisa crannell)

projective colienation (courtesy annalisa crannell)

MF: At this point in my life drawing is more fun if it involves mathematics in some way. I often get ideas for my research by drawing diagrams of mathematical ideas. Sometimes a line of investigation doesn’t seem to involve drawing, but then a drawing gets me unstuck at some critical point. And whenever I’m writing for an audience of more than just narrow specialists, I try to summarize the main points using pictures of some kind. Not all mathematical ideas involve pictures, but I’m extremely partial to those that do.

Thanks again Annalisa and Marc! May drawing continue to be the tool that helps you get “unstuck”!

For more information on what Annalisa and Marc have researched about drawing and mathematics, please be sure to visit the resources below.

Annalisa’s links:

Annalisa Crannell at Franklin & Marshall College
Mathematics of Art course description
Writing in Mathematics course description
Bryn Mawr Now
Mathematical Association of America (MAA) Distinguished Lecture
Inside Higher Education: Perspective in Math and Art by Annalisa Crannell (July 18, 2011)

Marc’s links:

Society for Industrial & Applied Mathematics (SIAM): How to Look at Art by Marc Frantz (May 14, 1998)
Drawing with Awareness (April 2003)
What I Wish I Had Known in Art School: Foundation of a Course in Mathematics and Art

Other links:

Princeton University Press Blog
Princeton University Press on Facebook


A Challenge from Annalisa Crannell
Annalisa Crannell


Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art written by Marc Frantz and Annalisa Crannell

Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art written by Marc Frantz and Annalisa Crannell (Google Books)
Writing Projects for Mathematical Courses written by Annalisa Crannell, Gavin LaRose & Thomas Ratcliff
Starting our Careers written and edited by Curtis D. Bennett, edited by Annalisa Crannell

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

Posted in a bit of rambling, drawing, interviews | Comments Off

living forever…in a drawing or as a noun?


Hope this Friday finds you well and ready to take on the weekend. Thom and I are planning to get our little resident alien’s room painted, since the weeks are going by, and the day we’ll get to finally meet her is coming quickly! Yikes! I’ll get to draw on the walls for this project, so I’m very much looking forward to that.

Yesterday, my friend Nina and her two young daughters met for lunch and a visit to the aquarium. She had an incredible amount of baby loot to share with me, which I’m so grateful for! Her car was packed, and after the transfer, my car was! And her oldest, Amelia, gave me two awesome drawings she had made specially for me. I can’t tell you how much I love children’s drawings (one of the things I’m really looking forward to with our munchkin)…so a big “Thanks!” to Amelia for them…plus, in one of the pictures, she put me in a bikini–an item of clothing that I will only wear in Amelia’s drawing! I look great in it! The best part is that in both, she included the baby. Love ‘em!

drawing of carolina & baby by amelia, age 5

drawing of carolina (in a bikini) & baby by amelia, age 5

So, in the spirit of living on in Amelia’s drawing, today’s animation is a very funny one titled “Wanna Live Forever? Become a Noun” done for NPR (National Public Radio) with music, illustrations and animation by Adam Cole (a.k.a. CADAMOLE).  In my search for his website, and more information on him, I found his YouTube channel, and discovered that he’s a very funny song writer.  Makes me think of a cross between Andy Samberg (from SNL and The Lonely Island–remember The ‘Bu video I posted a few weeks back? Glasses on!? If you missed it, humor me and watch it here once you’re done with this post–it’s the last one), Weird Al Yankovic and maybe James Taylor. I would recommend two of Adam Cole’s videos: “A Bilologist’s St. Patrick’s Day Song” (especially if you like beer), and “A Biologist’s Mother’s Day Song” (I don’t have to tell you who you need to like to enjoy that song!).

“Wanna Live Forever? Become a Noun” (not to be confused with “Wanna Live Forever? Become a Nun” for which a music video has not yet been created…at least I don’t think so) is a collaged music video chuck full of historical figures, so you’re bound to learn a thing or two (if only all history courses were taught in song!). I also learned a new word: “eponym“…So watch, laugh and (if you just can’t help it) learn…and hope that the song doesn’t stick to your brain tissue like glue for the rest of the day or the weekend! It’s fun!

Wishing you a great weekend, whatever you do and wherever you go! See you next week!

Posted in animation, children's drawings | Comments Off

why people draw: rosie james

Hello again!

It’s a very gray day here this morning, but the studio is bright and (although still messy) cheery! I was telling (or confessing to) Thom this morning that I have a disease…I tend to cover any open surface around me with paper and stuff! I can’t help it. If I had 10 tables in my studio (not that I can fit that many), I’d manage to cover them all! Anyone who knew my desk at the Museum could attest to this disease! Not sure where it stems from…maybe I need to “see” everything around me to keep it in mind. Even my computer desktop looks like a busy (err…messy desk!).

But enough about me…today’s “why people draw” post is all about British artist Rosie James. You’ve heard me mention, a time or two on this Blog, that I’ve been curious about learning to use a sewing machine. Well, Rosie’s stunning work, uses the sewing machine in a way I had never guessed possible. It is her pencil, her pen…it IS her drawing tool! Forget about what is possible with a pencil. It’s amazing to see the amount of detail, body gesture and facial expression that Rosie is able to achieve with thread and a sewing machine! There’s a freshness and energy in her line that perhaps owes its qualities to her collaboration with the machine. Beautiful work!

I learned of Rosie’s work through a great list-serve I subscribed to a couple of months back called the Drawing Research Network. A post about an exhibition from The Centre for Recent Drawing (a.k.a C4RD), led me to the C4RD site, where I saw her work, and was mesmerized by it! Thanks to the magic of online links and email, I found a way to get in touch with Rosie, and she kindly agreed to do the interview. Thank you Rosie for accepting the invitation to be a part of this series!

ROSIE JAMES (tah-dah!)

Here she is (drum, drum, drum) artist Rosie James in her own words and stitched marks! Enjoy and be inspired by another dimension of drawing that has left me trying to figure out…how does she manage to do that?

HW: What’s your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

RJ: I still have some preschool drawing books from when I was about 4 or 5. There’s a great drawing in it of people on a bus. All in brightly coloured wax crayon, with faces filling the windows. Wish I could draw like that now!

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

RJ: I think everyone is able to draw. It’s about looking. Drawing is an ability to look, which gets better the more you do it.  I’m lucky to have the desire and the time and space to do it.

taking a thread for a walk, 2010 (22 cm x 21 cm each panel x 4 cm; 8.7 in x 8.3 in each panel x 1.6 in). black thread, transparent fabric, card (courtesy rosie james)

HW: When and how did you discover your preference for drawing with a sewing machine and with needle and thread, as opposed to a pencil?

RJ: I studied printed textiles at college and didn’t really like sewing much. I created handprinted fabrics and made them up into things which didn’t require much sewing, such as scarves and cushions.

Then I was asked to teach design for an Embroidery course and thought I’d better have a go, and became hooked.

HW: How did your interest in depicting crowds and the individuals within crowds develop?

RJ: It starts with photography. I like capturing a moment in time with the camera. And with people they are moving about all the time. The camera can stop them for you whilst you draw them, you have time to look at all the details and contemplate how interesting they are. There is so much to explore there.

maidstone july, 2006 (76 cm x 101 cm; 29.9 in x 39.8 in). thread, silk organza, linen (courtesy rosie james)

In my latest work the figures are all life size and hang from the ceiling as a group but with space around them. The viewer can walk around and become part of this see through crowd. It’s interesting how the stitched line becomes a drawing in space.

crowd cloud, 2011 (20 figures each approx. 160 cm x 55 cm; 63 in x 21.7 in). silk organza, black thread (courtesy rosie james)

crowd cloud, 2011 (detail) (courtesy rosie james)

HW: In addition to the stitched line, many of your works incorporate fabric appliqués, screen printing and digital printing. At what point did these elements become part of your process and of your work?

RJ: I wanted to bring in some colour. The line itself I think works best in black so I added colour through screen printing (I have always loved printing!), plus I have a huge collection of brightly coloured patterned vintage fabrics which I have finally found a use for! This way I can create a variety of marks, colours and images.

st. james' loungers, 2011 (commission for hotel near st. james' park, london--145 cm x100 cm x 5 cm; 57.1 in x 39.4 in x 2 in). silk, cotton, fabrics, thread. (courtesy rosie james)

st. james' loungers, 2011 (detail) (courtesy rosie james)

HW: In your stitched drawings, you purposefully leave dangling threads throughout. What are the reasons behind that choice?

RJ: The first piece I made I just left them intending to cut them off but then I decided that actually the dangling threads give the work a kind of life. The dangling threads give it the scribblyness you can get when drawing with a pencil. I leave all “mistakes” in, like when the threads get caught up in the machine creating a lumpy knot. I think this is like a kind of inkblot. They are all just different kinds of marks, really.

pergamon audio, 2007 (detail of stitched drawing with screen printing--80 cm x 100 cm x 5 cm (31.5 in x 39.4 in x 2 in). silk, linen, thread (courtesy rosie james)

HW: If you could write a recipe for your drawings/artwork, what would the ingredient list be (read like)?

1 cup of black thread all tangled up and squashed into the cup.
1 piece of white cotton cut into a pan shape
Photographs of crowds of people
Pencils (finely chopped)

Toss the black thread in the air and let fall onto the white fabric. Sling in the photos whole and add the chopped up pencils, mix together. Boil until images have disappeared and only black scribbly lines remain. Put it on a warm plate and admire!

tourists contemplating the british museum, 2007 (152 cm x 138 cm x 2 cm (59.8 in x 54.3 in x 0.8 in). variety of found and bought fabrics, silk organza, linen and black thread (courtesy rosie james)

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running? (what gets you itching to draw or create?)

RJ: Once you’ve got an idea, the hamster wheel starts running and you can’t get off till you’ve realised it. You are driven to see what this idea is going to come out like. It has to be something you haven’t done before, something slightly different from your last work something that you’re not sure how its going to come out, to get you going.

shed series, 2010 (first in the series of an ongoing drawing of rosie’s workspace. This photo shows the drawing with the actual space positioned behind it--each section approx. 80 cm x 65 cm; 31.5 in x 25.6 in). black thread, cotton organdie (courtesy rosie james)

HW: I know I told you maximum 8 questions, but I have one more question. I was just curious, if as an artist who uses a technique traditionally considered a “craft” you’ve had to deal with the issue of “craft vs art”; and, if so, what has that experience been like?

RJ: Yes, the craft/art thing is always there somewhere. My work has a foot in both camps. I don’t think about it really but I just try to exhibit and sell wherever I can so if it’s a gallery selling “fine” art or gallery selling craft, it seems to be at home in either. Which opens up more spaces for me. However, people are willing to spend more on art than they are on craft, and a lot of art galleries are a bit snooty about textiles. Although this is gradually changing and more art involves craft techniques. So I think it’s all becoming much more complicated and intermingled than simply art vs craft.

Thank you again Rosie! I really appreciate your attitude towards drawing–in that you (as I do) believe that everyone can draw, and for the way you allow “scribbles” and “inkblots” to be part of the final work!


Rosie James’s website


Rosie’s Blog Stitch Draw

Other links:

Rosie on Twitter Axis: the online resource for contemporary art mr. x stitch contemporary embroidery and needlecraft: The Cutting (& Stitching) Edge–Rosie James (April 29, 2010) Salford City Council: Rosie James Ordsall Hall textile commission Salford City Council: Stitch draw Phoenix Gallery in Brighton Departmentart.co.uk Birmingham Post: Textile art goes on display at the Waterhall (April 1, 2008) Evrah

Book features:

Push Stitchery: 30 Artists Explore the Boundaries of Stitched Art, by Lark Books & Jamie Chalmers (curator)
Push Stitchery, edited by Jamie Chalmers on the Textile Arts Center Blog
Drawn to Stitch: Line, Drawing and Mark-Making in Textile Art by Gwen Hedley

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

Posted in artists, drawing, interviews | Comments Off

song and dance, sand and water

Happy Friday!

Another week gone by, another week closer to meeting our new little resident, our munchkin, or as friends have dubbed her, “the imminent one,” or “my future collaborator” (I’m partial to this last one…thanks Karen!).

On Wednesday we had a new “why people draw” interview with author and illustrator Deborah Freedman. Her new book Blue Chicken (Viking, 2011) was just released a little over a week ago.  If you missed it, you can read the interview here.  That day I also told you that I’d share some drawing-related things I came across during our vacation. After that I’ll tell you about today’s animated shorts–yes, plural again.  But you’ll see why in a bit.

I’ve come to really enjoy the airline magazines because, not only are they for an extremely captive audience which includes me, but also because it seems like every time I go through one (and I don’t fly super often) I happen to find something interesting that makes me want to bring the magazine with me.  Last time it was the article about Jason Polan and his “Every Person in New York” project, which resulted in a “why people draw” interview earlier this year. You can read that one here.  This time, I found that the illustrations to the September Features looked very familiar.  Lo and behold they had been done by one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Oliver Jeffers (who, by the way, I haven’t been able to get for an interview–I’ve tried. So if any of you out there can help me out, I’d really appreciate it!).

Here’s the page.  I just love his use of old notebook paper, handwriting and the freshness of his line and images.

oliver jeffers illustrations in united's hemispheres magazine, september 2011

Also came across this blurb about an exhibition at The Met, which sounds like one I’d like to go see…

infinite jest: caricature and satire from leonardo to levine at The Met in united's hemispheres magazine, september 2011

The other drawing-related things I stumbled about were those of nature creating its own marks.  We did a lot of walking by the water and in the water, and we hiked through the sand dunes a few times (and may I brag here, that at nearly 7 months pregnant I hiked up–on the sand side from the water, not using the steps–up to the top of Mount Baldhead, which sits 764 feet, or 232.87 meters, above sea level? It was lots of fun, but boy was it tough! You move one step forward, half or more back–it’s like being on a faulty escalator! But in an awesome setting! Not the mall!).  So here are some drawings made by the tall grass, the sand and the wind, and by the wind, the clouds and the beautiful blue sky.  That wind is some artist!

grass drawing #1 (© 2011 wacky shorts creations & carolina pedraza)

grass drawing #2 (© 2011 wacky shorts creations & carolina pedraza)

pegasus in the sky (© 2011 wacky shorts creations & carolina pedraza)

And finally, no paper around when you’re on a beach is not a big problem.  I really enjoyed drawing in the sand.  One of my drawings, and my “drawing tools.” So much fun!

self portrait with little resident by carolina (© 2011 wacky shorts creations & carolina pedraza)

my drawing tools: stick, feather & sand (© 2011 wacky shorts creations & carolina pedraza)

Well, that’s it about our vacation and drawing…

Now to Friday’s usual focus…animated shorts.  Today, I have one that was sent to me earlier in the week by one of my Aunts, and in fact is related to water and sand, and vacation destinations!  The short is a classic from Walt Disney’s 1942 animated film Saludos Amigos, and features the song Aquarela Do Brasil (Watercolor of Brazil)–which I’m sure most of you have heard.  The song was written by Brazilian composer Ary Barroso in 1939, and in this version, it is sung by Aloysio Oliveira. It’s a great sequence that coordinates the images to the music–which I can imagine has to be such a tough way to animate.  And this one was done the old-fashioned way…drawing by drawing, cell by cell. It brought back memories of watching old Disney cartoons and movies…and you gotta love Donald and his bad temper, the nuances in the movements of the characters, and how weird and funny it is that they show drinking and smoking in the short. Hope you enjoy it.

The other short, I happened to find while searching for the Aquarela Do Brasil segment…but is a 2005 version of the same tune done by Russian animator Aleksey Budovsky titled Return I Will to Old Brazil (with music by Geoff Muldaur and performed by The Real Tuesday Weld, with Nick Phelps and Geert Chatrou–the latter is a world champion whistler!).  It’s very different from the Disney short, but lots of fun to watch–especially again, for how the images and music work together so well. And in this one, drinking is part of it too! Ha! Except this time instead of a duck, it’s a monkey!

Have a great weekend! See you next week…

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

Posted in a bit of rambling, animation, artists, children's books, drawing, exhibitions, interviews | Comments Off

why people draw: deborah freedman

Hello again!

Boy! This has probably been the longest that I’ve been away from the Hamster Wheel Blog since I started writing it earlier this year. I’m happy to report that Thom and I had a wonderful vacation—one of those where we actually got to rest, and in which our biggest concern was having dinner so that we could head on over to catch the beautiful sunsets on the beach.  Another sign of a great vacation is not wanting to leave…we sure didn’t! I have a few things that are drawing-related from our vacation that I’m thinking of posting on Friday, so stay tuned.

But first things first…today marks another “why people draw” interview day, and I am so, so happy to introduce to you children’s book illustrator Deborah Freedman. This past week has been a huge deal for Debbie because her new illustrated storybook Blue Chicken (Viking, 2011) was released just last Thursday, September 15! It’s a beautifully done book, where you can see that Debbie approached every single illustration with incredible attention to detail. And because I love the color blue, especially a watery blue, Blue Chicken sure satisfies that! I also love the little Chicken who creates the blue mess—there’s both a mix of innocence and mischief in that little feathered creature!

I met Debbie a little over a year ago while I was still at the Museum and she agreed to teach one of the summer courses for the 4 to 6-year olds focused on drawing, and based on her first book Scribble (Knopf, 2007). A few months later, she and I got together just to chat, which was great! Debbie is super easy to talk with, and as someone who would love to write and illustrate books myself, I truly enjoy learning about how she does what she does. This interview was done over email just recently, and Debbie was kind enough to take the time for it even with Blue Chicken craziness in her life! Thank you Debbie for that!


So here she is (drum, drum, drum) author and illustrator Deborah Freedman in her own words, scribbles and chicken spills! Thanks again Debbie!

HW: What’s your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

DF: I remember drawing in preschool, making picture after picture of girls with hair that had a little flip at the end, like my mom wore in the 60’s. Funny obsession! My memory of those pictures inspired the character of Princess Aurora in my first book, Scribble.

spread from SCRIBBLE: “And so she followed, through acres of one color...into another, which was the color of EMMA'S PICTURE.” Pencil, watercolor, magic marker, digital color (courtesy deborah freedman)

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

DF: Drawing for me is another way of asking questions that I don’t have to answer.

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," pen and ink (courtesy deborah freedman)

HW: Your background is in art history and architecture; in what ways do these areas of experience/knowledge make their way into your writing and illustrating?

DF: Studying each gave me vast respect for historical precedent, for context. When I begin a new book, the first thing I do is research comparable titles and read as much as I can. I want to know: has this been done before? Of course, usually in some way, it has! So how did other authors and illustrators execute similar ideas, what can I learn from them, and might my book offer a new take on familiar themes?

Aside from that, you’ve probably guessed that I have an archive of art and architectural history stored in my brain that informs what I do. I studied some graphic design in college as well, so between that and architecture, I have a fairly extensive education in and respect for design—and to my mind, creating a book is a complex design problem, not unlike making a building. Only my site is forty pages between two covers, my context is each reader’s literary memory.

from “Dora’s House”, pen and ink, watercolor (courtesy deborah freedman)

HW: When you work on your children’s books, do you write first, draw later? Or draw first, write later? Could you describe your creative process?

DF: I usually begin by lying in bed and thinking, or staring out of a window and thinking… but almost always thinking in both words and pictures. So I begin by “writing” with both, filling sketchbooks with snippets of text and doodles. Once I feel ready, or just finally overcome inertia, I sketch a book out in thumbnail, storyboard form so that I can see the entire book at once. For me, the book has to work visually at that tiny scale before I can move on; I will also pull the text out at some point and work on that by itself. There’s a constant back and forth between drawing and writing, with more and more finesse each time I revise.

from “Dora’s House”, pen and ink, children’s drawings, watercolor (courtesy deborah freedman)

HW: What aspects of creating children’s books do you find are what keep you wanting to develop more new ideas?

DF: I love my audience, connecting with them and knowing that picture books will become part of their growing-up memories—whether they remember a few words, an image, a bit of story, or simply remember the intimacy of being read to—so there’s that passionate belief that what I do might, in the context of other books, be important. I take my readers seriously, take their concerns seriously, but also love that they are open to all sorts of play; I can build a crazy world and they will enter like it’s any other new place they’ve ever visited! And what’s also great is that they pull adults along into that world with them.

spread from BLUE CHICKEN: “No more BLUE! Except for the sky…”, pencil & watercolor, with an assist from Photoshop (courtesy deborah freedman)

HW: Who are current illustrators whose work you enjoy? Why? (2, 3 or more…I realize sometimes it’s hard to narrow that list down)

DF: Ugh, I hate this question, so I’ve decided to give a different answer every time it’s asked! For today, here are a few of the many European born illustrators I love: Kveta Pacovská, Lisbeth Zwerger, Henrik Drescher.

HW: If you could write a recipe for your artwork, what would the ingredient list read like?

A green (or at least a greenish) place to walk.
And then a comfy place to sit.
With one window to stare out of.
A sketchbook to doodle in.

debbie's studio (photo courtesy deborah freedman)

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running? (what gets you itching to draw or create?)

DF: My primary inspiration for Scribble was visual (my children’s artwork), and William Carlos Williams’s The Red Wheelbarrow is what sparked Blue Chicken. So looking at art, or reading—any delicious use of images or words…!

Debbie, I love that the idea for Blue Chicken was the The Red Wheelbarrow. I just looked up the poem, and love the connection. I also can’t help but see your white Chicken as part of the poem at the end! Congratulations on the book release and the great reviews you have been receiving! I look forward to chatting again soon, and to your future projects!


Deborah Freedman’s website


Deborah Freedman’s Blog


Scribble, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
Blue Chicken, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman

Other links:

Debbie on Facebook
Debbie on Twitter
Debbie on goodreads
Debbie at Write Up Our Alley
Debbie’s Author Page on Amazon.com
New England SCBWI Connections–Speakers Directory
Society of Illustrators: 2011 Original Art Exhibition (October 26 to December 29, 2011)

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

Posted in artists, children's books, children's drawings, drawing, interviews | 3 Comments

why people draw: erika iris simmons

Hello again!

Hope today finds you well and dry! Yikes! It has been raining non-stop here in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I don’t think most areas in this state can handle any more water. Thom and I get to escape all this rain a bit tomorrow…we’re off for a week-long vacation. We’re really looking forward to it!

This past Saturday, we went to see The Weepies—one of our favorite groups. It was a great acoustic concert…both of their voices lend themselves so well to that! Come to think of it, The Weepies have used animation for their videos a couple of times (keeping it relevant to The Hamster Wheel, and so it sounds less like me rambling on about my weekend!). Here’s the one for “Be My Thrill.” It’s such a fun song! This video was illustrated by Lauren Briere and animated by Paul Keefer.

Now back to today…we’ve got a brand new “why peope draw” interview, which always makes me happy to be able to post! I’m discovering that I constantly have my little “why people draw” antennas up nowadays so that whenever I see drawing anywhere, I think, “hmm…whoever made this would be a great interview!” This is the case with our guest today. Having moved to a new house earlier this year, our realtors send us a magazine called American Lifestyle. Thom (who also wears his “why people draw” antenna with pride! Or if not with pride, as a wonderful sign of support!) pointed out to me an article titled “Ordinary Materials. Extraordinary Art. Ghost in the Machine” in that magazine about Erika Iris Simmon’s cassette tape drawings. Her work immediately got my attention. When you see the images, you’ll see why.

Erika studied Russian and Literature, and is fascinated by how people understand the meaning of things, by history, by science and by psychology. All this seems to explain her interest in materials and objects that have a story within themselves—be it because of their content or their use.  Apart from that conceptual side to her work, I also really like that she physically handles and manipulates the line—whether it is audiotape, string or sheet music.

I am so grateful to Erika for how receptive she was to doing this interview when I approached her. Thank you Erika for your time and your interest in contributing to the “why people draw” series!


Here she is (drum, drum, drum) Erika Iris Simmons in her own words and images. Make sure to look closely, because it’s hard to believe she can make images come to life with the materials she uses!

HW: What is your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

EIS: I never really thought of myself as much of an artist, but I started drawing in a little sketchbook when I was about 16. I would mostly just try to copy photographs of people or draw what I saw in the world.

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

EIS: The more art I make, the more I realize that drawing (or any art) allows you to interpret the world through your own filter—sometimes being able to subtly express what words can’t.

mozart's serenade no. 10, sheet music (courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: In your artwork you’ve used recycled & donated audio cassette tape, 8 & 16 mm film, text and images from books, even baseballs. What is it about a particular material that makes you want to work with it?

EIS: I don’t like working with anything that requires more than scissors and glue. I enjoy delicate textures and details. Also the medium has to have some character that is maintained even after it’s broken apart.

Audrey graceful

audrey graceful, recycled 8mm film on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: What is it about the portrait that continues to interest you, and that continues to be so important in your work?

EIS: I enjoy making portraits because it fascinates me that we can see a face at all in a pile of tape. I’m starting to venture out into other subjects now, though.

bob dylan, cassette tape on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

john lennon, casette tape on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: If you could a write a recipe for your artwork, what would the ingredient list read like?

EIS: Take something old but interesting. Break it open and look inside. Bring the most beautiful memory out.

beethoven, sheet music (courtesy erika iris simmons)

Beethoven: Cutting out the music

cutting out the music for the beethoven piece (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: Who are 2 contemporary artists whose work you enjoy? Why?

EIS: I love Ken Knowlton and Vik Muniz—if I had never seen their art, I never would have ever tried to make my own.

HW: How did you arrive at cutting and reconstructing (and no addition of paint or pigment) as prominent elements in your process and of your work?

EIS: I was inspired by the idea of recursion, where an idea is nested in itself. The idea worked like this: there is data on the cassette tape. Pulling out the data and arranging it adds more meaning because we recognize the singer’s face in the art, but maybe you also hear the song in your head while you look, so your own data is responding to what you see…

in progress: a tribute to benoit mandelbrot's fractual geometry of nature (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

in progress: hokusai's "the great wave off kanagawa” for the tribute to benoit mandelbrot (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

in progress: a tribute to benoit mandelbrot (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running (what gets you itching to draw or create)?

EIS: When I’ve had a hard day—nothing better than chopping and gluing at my desk.

jimmy hendrix, cassette tape on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

Thank you again Erika! You sure give help open up the possibilities of what drawing can be…and where line is waiting to be found!

Erica’s IRI5 site

Erica’s IRI5 blog

Other links:

Erika on Flickr
Erika on Twitter
Erika’s Etsy Shop
CNN: Bruno Mars’ video inspiration recycles trash into treasure (December 14, 2010)
Bruno Mars’ video inspired by Erika’s artwork
American Lifestyle Magazine “Ordinary Materials. Extraordinary Art. Ghost in the Machine” (July/August 2011)
Woman’sDay: 11 Cassette and Film Tape Art Works (January 14, 2010)
Erika’s portrait of baseball player Fernando Valenzuela on creativityfuse.com

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

Posted in animation, artists, drawing, interviews | Comments Off

say something in spanish: “algo”

Hello and happy Friday!

I hope you’ve had a good week, and that you’re revved up for the Labor Day weekend! We’re sticking around for the long weekend, but a few days later we’re off on a nice one-week vacation.  We can’t wait!

So, as cheery as I sound in the opening paragraph, it’s hard to imagine that the animation that I chose for today is actually a pretty sad one.  However, it’s so nicely made, that I thought I’d share it with you anyway.  Maybe better to watch it when you’re in a chipper mood, rather than feeling down and low.  It wouldn’t help you get out of that funk! (it’s as if I had a choice to watch a scary movie at night or bright and early in the morning, I’d pick the latter.  However, as I’ve mentioned before, no scary movies for me, thank you! Just an example.).

This animated short, titled “La Leyenda del Espantapajaros” (The Legend of the Scarecrow) is a combination of 2D and 3D, and is beautifully done.  Created by Spanish director, animator and editor Carlos Lascano, this short film tells the story of a lonely Scarecrow.  I really like the Scarecrow character, because he has a sweetness about him in his facial expressions and his body language.  The narrator’s voice, which apparently is not the final version, is perfect in its tone and pace (in some ways it matches the speed of the wind through the windmills). And the story itself is just really nicely told…it kept me watching intently until the end.  The only catch is that the story has no English subtitles yet and is told entirely in Spanish.

Since I don’t put my Spanish to work very often (that will change when our little “imminent one”–as a friend put it–shows up in November!), I thought I’d start putting it to good use, and translate the story for you here (as text, not as subtitles).  You can decide whether you want to watch the animation first, and try to understand the story from the visuals (which is actually possible…that’s how good the animation is), or whether you’d like to read my paraphrasing of the story first, and then watch it.  I kind of wish I had watched it muted first, but I went ahead and heard the narration from the start.  I think whatever you decide, you’ll get a lot out of it.  Here is Carlos Lascano’s behind-the-scenes page for his short film–this is one is in English–if you want to learn more about his creative process.

The Legend of the Scarecrow (translated and paraphrased by Carolina)

This is the story of a Scarecrow who wanted to be friends with the birds.

He worked on a small plot where he would watch the birds fly by. He would wave hello to them, but they would never wave back.

He offered them seeds he found on the ground, but again, they would ignore him.

The scarecrow was sad because he had no friends.

One night, a Blind Crow dropped down from the sky hurt.  The Scarecrow decided he would take care of the Blind Crow and make him well again.  He wrapped the bird in his scarf and fed him seeds.

When the Blind Crow was better, the Scarecrow asked him why the birds would not come to him or why they did not want to be friends with a scarecrow.  The Blind Crow explained that Scarecrows were made to scare away birds, and were seen by birds as mean and despicable monsters.

The Scarecrow said that wasn’t true, as he, himself, was a scarecrow and he wasn’t mean.  The Blind Crow quickly unraveled himself from the scarf and flew away.  So once again, the Scarecrow was left all alone.

That same night, the Scarecrow made a decision.  He no longer wanted his job to be scaring away birds.  Unfortunately, when he approached his Owner in the middle of the night and spoke, it frightened the man, who screamed so loud, he woke up the entire neighborhood.

The Owner explained to his neighbors how his Scarecrow had come to life, and that that could only be the devil’s doing.

The townspeople chased down the Scarecrow into a windmill, and set it on fire.  The Scarecrow yelled for help, but no one would listen, except for some crows that were flying nearby. One of these crows was the Blind Crow the Scarecrow had helped earlier.  The other crows told him that the townspeople were burning down a haystack where a Scarecrow with a very long scarf was hiding.

It was then that the Blind Crow explained to his friends that this was the “good” scarecrow.  The one who had saved his life.  The crows, touched by the story, tried to save the Scarecrow, but it was too late.  There was nothing they could do.

The Scarecrow died.

At dawn, when there were hardly any flames left, the crows approached the remains of the windmill.  They picked up the Scarecrow’s ashes and flew very high up into the sky.  And from the highest point, they spread his ashes into the wind.

The Scarecrow’s ashes flew among all the birds, and from that moment on, the Scarecrow was never alone again because his ashes flew alongside his new friends.  And to mourn the Scarecrow’s tragic death, the Blind Crow and all the other crows decided to dress in black. From that moment on, and for this reason, all crows are black—in memory of the Scarecrow who wanted to be friends with the birds

Hope you have a great long weekend! See you next week…

Posted in animation, artists | Comments Off

why people draw: bob seal


It’s a beautiful day out there…in fact, we’ve had incredibly beautiful days following Hurricane Irene. We were very lucky in our neighborhood…power was out for several hours, but other than branches and leaves all over yards and parks, nothing nearly as bad as what the news has shown on television. Phew! Hope all those people who are now trying to recover from flooding, continuous power loss, trees down, and other damages, will be able to do so soon.

Last Wednesday, the Hamster Wheel had a brand new “why people draw” interview with comic book creator Jonathan Mahood. And this week, we follow up with yet another new interview…this time with someone from much farther away than Canada! Okay, so Canada is not THAT for away. But anyway, I am so happy to have Bob Seal today all the way from Australia–a country I would love to visit, and which reminds me of that funny line—probably the only part of the movie I saw—from Dumb & Dumber:
Lloyd (Jim Carrey’s character): That’s a lovely accent you have. New Jersey?
Lady at bus stop: Austria.
Lloyd: Austria! Well, then. G’day mate! Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie!
Lady at bus stop: Let’s not.
(From IMDB.com)

Anyway, Bob and I are “facebook friends.” We’ve never met, but he was nice enough to accept my friend request a while back. I had seen the large amount and varied work from a search off of his profile, and was very intrigued. It really is incredible how we are able to “reach out” to others who are super far away nowadays; all thanks to the Internet. Bob comments on that in our interview, because of how important a tool the Internet is for him as a freelance illustrator. Plus, I got one of the best compliments I could ever get from Bob about a contact he made after reading one of the “why people draw” interviews (actually, the very first one back in March with cartoonist Elwood Smith!). You made my day Bob! Thank you!

Bob has been working for a long time in illustration, graphic design, printmaking, etc., and you’ll quickly learn that he has a lot to say about many things; also that he has learned lots along the way. So it’s great to have an opportunity for the rest of us to be able to grab some valuable tidbits here and there for our own art practice and life.

Bob, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on drawing and life! “See you” on Facebook where New Jersey and Australia could just as well be neighboring towns (or pages in a book)! (Hey! Watch it readers! I know many of you are making some kind of “funny” comments about New Jersey right now!…Oh, go ahead…I haven’t been here long enough yet to fight back! Ha! Ha! In a few years, maybe!)

BOB SEAL (tah-dah!)

So, without further ado, here he is (drum, drum, drum) Bob Seal sharing what’s on his mind! Thank you again Bob! (Bob, by the way, once worked at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. As he put it: “A SEAL working at the zoo!! LOL.”

HW: What is your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

BS: The early years, (something like 5 years old) my first general memory is sitting under some wooden stairs in a leather factory drawing or more like, finger painting in the dust! My mum worked in a leather factory and maybe that day she couldn’t find a child minder, I don’t know why I was under the stairs! I can still smell the oil from the sewing machines. My whole life has been about observing people from under the stairs! It’s a pleasant memory!

But my first memory of real drawing on paper was drawing with a 6-7 year-old friend. He was interested in the Second World War. I just loved drawing stuff. With him I did lots of Second World War scenes with little people running around, lots of planes shooting and bombing and the important part was: could you recognize a Spitfire from a Hurricane, and a Messerschmitt 109 from a Ju-87 Stuka by the wing shape and profile! I think this is typical of male bonding, to point at and label everything. ;)

bob at work in his studio (photo by rosie heritage)

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

BS: Drawing keeps me alive. Drawing is my life, it seems. I just express myself by drawing. If I can draw something and get the taste and the smell of it from the feel of the drawing, then that’s what I call a good drawing. (The illustrator Quentin Blake does this superbly! Also take a look at Vincent Van Gogh‘s ink drawings, they are just the beez kneez, by the way. Check out Quentin Blake’s illustrations for “The Twits” by Roald Dahl). Drawing somehow captures the NOW quality of everything. Words just don’t do it for me; I know others would disagree. For example, the word PEN and the image of a PEN aren’t the actual PEN. The image gets a little closer to the look and feel of what a PEN is for me, but both fail to be the PEN. The actual PEN has a smell, taste and feel and it is always happening NOW in this present sensing state as it is being observed. The drawing is an attempt to bring that feel to life. It always fails as it can never be the actual thing. But it’s good to try and it is just an interpretation from a mind and hand process. The image crosses all national boundaries. Words stop at the language borders.

HW: Your illustrations take the form of cartoons, linocut & woodcut prints, paper cuts, sculptures, etc. What form is the one you prefer, if any? Why?

BS: When I’m working in each media that is the most important media at that time. Everything goes into it. Nothing is more important than the work in progress.

Of course, the cycle of work ends and something else comes up to do. Then that becomes the most important thing in the world until success or failure pushes you into something else. I used to drive myself nuts jumping from one project to another in an attempt to do everything. These days I’ve seen through what I do, and am a little more gentle on myself. I don’t fight it anymore and whatever comes up is what I am doing. So much less stress this way. Lately I’ve been thinking about what do I really want to do before the guy with the scythe and black hoody turns up. After you’re 50, people think you are old and spend your days sitting in a bath chair! These days if you are over 30 you drop out of sight in commercial life! Really you are as old as you THINK. If you think in an old way then that’s what you are. If you think and are aware of what is happening RIGHT NOW, then that’s as good as it gets.

Back to the question! Drawing cartoon-like thoughts is where I am at present. Not necessarily gags, just ideas in cartoon form. My Non-Duality Cartoons are what I love to do, they really are about visual answers to the big question. What is this thing called life all about? So I suppose philosophy or a way of looking at life is what makes me tick.
Having said that, I haven’t drawn any Non-Dual stuff for a while. Life’s a wonderful contradiction, one part is the brain (mind) thinking about stuff and the other is just getting on with the livingness of life as thoughts come and go.

now (courtesy bob seal)

I really enjoy making automatons from paper, that’s my second most enjoyable pastime. To make a drawing move by cutting up a flat sheet of paper, folding and gluing it together is just Magic!!! It’s Alchemy! I can send a model as a .pdf file and someone in another country can print it out on their computer and build it following my instruction sheet. That’s what I love about the Internet. I can do a drawing and put it on Facebook or Google+ and then a few minutes later someone in Rio, Washington or London sends me a comment! That’s just brilliant! It’s sad that the old communication skills of letter writing and copperplate handwriting have hit the dust, though. Just look at some old letters they are great graphic art! (My partner Rosie has wonderful handwriting skills). See my talking skulls to get the idea of the paper automatons.

rosie's birthday (courtesy bob seal)

HW: Your background is in typography, graphic design and illustration. In what ways do these areas of experience/knowledge make their way into your illustrations and cartoons?

BS: I don’t really think about cross over with the work I create; everything is on autopilot! Typography was my early profession; working in advertising selling people lots of stuff they didn’t really want or need. (Good not to still be doing that). I stumbled into Graphic Design as part of learning about the graphic arts. My real love has always been drawing ideas and especially with pen and ink. There’s something wonderful about a piece of blank white paper that a computer screen just doesn’t have. The old traditional style cartoonists like LARRY (UK) and Lou Myers (USA) say it all (I miss these guys). The idea is translated in pen and ink as directly as possible. That’s BLISSFUL :) That’s real success when it works.

Pre-computer days I loved typography. Then when the computers came in they changed the way you handled type. Early computers had limited ability handling type, and everyone thought they could be typographers. Some awful stuff appeared pretending to be typography! Funny these days I love everything: graffiti and tags, grunge typefaces, especially, and I really love the album covers for early punk bands, etc. Computers are now just amazing things to use and anything can be done with type; it just took a while to get up to speed. I’m probably one of the few people who don’t own a cell phone, prefer not being able to be contacted every minute of everyday. I’m off line because I choose to be. But I was thinking about creating cartoons to sell within this cell phone world we live in. I’m a contradiction. A TechnoLud (as in Luddite)! I use the technology when I want to and then go into a caveman mode when drawing my cartoons and thinking. The only difference between you/me and a caveman/woman is the caveperson doesn’t own a Blackberry or iPad. Thinking process is just the same. We just needed to start at the design of a wheel to get things rolling.

HW: If you could a write a recipe for your artwork, what would the ingredient list read like?

BS: The ingredients to a successful drawing career are . . .
1. Ideas, Ideas, Ideas.
2. Draw, Draw, Draw.
3. Sell, Sell, Sell.
(Use of technology optional).

Number 3. That’s the hard one! You need to spend 80% of your effort here at number 3 and I’m too busy enjoying drawing my ideas. People say to me, “wow!” you have done so many things. You are successful. But I think I’m a brilliant failure. (Or should I say, “Making mistakes is important!”) I learn by failing well. There is nothing wrong in failure; it’s a way to learn fast. There’s still lots to do and unless I fail 90% of the time I won’t get to that 10% success rate. Cartoonists get rejected everyday; it’s part of the job. Get up and do it until it gets accepted. As I say living here in Australia ” ONWARDS & DOWNWARDS” or “SpJVMNMOp & SpJVMNO” if you live on the other side of the world to me.

HW: What do you like to do when you’re not drawing?

BS: Make things. Doing simple stuff is great to get the hands working with the head. I make sculptures from pieces of wood I find, it’s like a form of 3D doodling (sketching). Chopping wood for our old wood fire in winter is a great exercise routine and the sound as the wood splits upon impact—a great sense of achievement and warm inner glow. Very Zen. I chop wood, but I don’t need to carry the water these days.

where bob sits and comes up with ideas in his studio...he thought the beam of sunlight gave it a Monty Python feel! (photo courtesy bob seal)

HW: You’ve been working in illustration and graphic design for many years—with many clients, and in several countries—in what ways have you noticed illustration to be a global language, and in what ways is it much more a regional one?

BS: Global or regional thinking really depends on the clients you pick up.
They arrive with a problem or job and you try to think of a way to solve that projects issues.

illustration from "cursery rhymes" by philip caveney(courtesy bob seal)

It’s very simple really.

If I don’t know the answer there’s always Google or any search engine these days to spark the thinking process. :) If you want to succeed with your drawings commercially, your language needs to be global, that is unless you get a job drawing cartoons for a local media outfit and its audience is regional.

Two major points when working for other countries are:
+ Always make yourself aware of cultural differences!
+ Be respectful of other people’s views even if you think they are totally wrong (or nuts). People fight wars and kill because of thinking they have the only right view.

Failure to follow these points and you will come across as a patronizing idiot.

Lots of people use Stockart/Clipart now and the freelance cartoonists’/illustrators’ future is that of the Dodo unless you can create a niche market. Caricaturists still have a good future. Lots of caricaturists are heading towards using a techie approach with Cintiq screens, digital printouts or online delivery.

The traditional original piece of artwork on paper has become obsolete or special, depending upon your thinking. Would like to take my hat off to the caricaturists who draw at live venues. That’s a tough job, to keep it going for a few hours everyday, drawing caricatures and parting with your artwork as you go.

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running (what gets you itching to draw or create)?

BS: Anger at something or Love for something does it every time. I don’t do political stuff usually, not really turned on by politics. I do enjoy working with primary aged school kids and sometimes do workshops on cartooning and making paper automatons. Kids are just so direct and always inspire me with their get-stuck-in-and-give-it-a-go-attitude. Humans do have a future. Kids prove it everyday.

bob seal's logo (courtesy bob seal)

I’m not really a social people-person, and prefer working alone and listening to Internet radio podcasts. I am a member of the Australian Cartoonists Association although I’ve never been to a cartooning meeting or an event. I have been a member of The International Society of Caricaturist Artists, but again, I’ve never been to a meeting or an event. A Happy Recluse comes to mind!

My sketchbooks have drawings of the animals that I’ve had as companions over the years. My latest sketches are my cat Tiggy. We have a love/hate relationship. Just perfect for drawings. Trying to capture the feelings around whatever happens to us, keeps me wanting to draw. It just flows out like long strings of spaghetti. :) My cat is always testing me; she has a better sense of humor than I do. I steal all my ideas from her.

cartoon of tiggy and bob (courtesy bob seal)

I love the Internet and its ability to connect people who will never meet in the physical world. I’m working with an animator at the moment called Brian Hoard who animated some of Elwood’s work. I met him online after reading your Elwood H. Smith “Why People Draw” and after a few emails we decided to work on a project together. I’ve drawn the storyboard and all the bits and pieces; Brian is now developing the animation idea. Be good to see what happens! So thanks for the links :) you connect people!

I have lots of bits and pieces of half ideas, strewn across cyberspace. On my travels I found the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything, including number 42 and it’s this . . .


Don’t know if you wanted all that information, but it just comes out that way!

Bob, we’ll take all the information you’re willing to share! Thank you again for your time! Good luck with the project you’re working on with Brian Hoard…that sounds very exciting! Look forward to hearing more about it!

Bob Seal Website

Koantoon Cartoons
Non-Duality Cartoons
Art Cuts
Dire Deary
Messages from Little People
The Wizard and The Frog
zip zot art
Trust in the Heart
Paint Blots

Other links:
Bob on Facebook
Bob Seal Cartoons on Facebook
Bob on Google+
Toon Pool
Toons Up

Bob on YouTube
Bob on vimeo

Mr. Shanahan’s Secret, written by Joan Flanagan, illustrated by Bob Seal
Laugh Out Loud!, written by various authors, illustrated by Bob Seal
Laugh Even Louder, written by various authors, illustrated by Bob Seal
Cursery Rhymes, written by Philip Caveney, illustrated by Bob Seal
Disaster!, written by Kate McAllen, illustrated by Bob Seal
My Story: Teachers Resource Book 1, written by Kate McAllen, illustrated by Bob Seal
My Story: Teachers Resource Book 2, written by Kate McAllen, illustrated by Bob Seal
Read About Think About, written by Helen Robinson & Rosie Heritage, illustrated by Bob Seal
Investigate Series, written by Honey Andersen & Bill Reinholtd, illustrated and designed by Bob Seal
Anatomica: The Complete Home Medical Reference. One of a team of illustrators, Bob Seal
Bush Fire, written by The Westside Players, illustrated by Rosie Heritage and Bob Seal. designed by Bob Seal
Scholastic’s Classroom Focus Magazine. Primary education resource (8 issues a year), designed and illustrated by Bob Seal

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

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