Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The PrintShop

I just recently realized that I hadn't even posted a link to my website here on the blog, so it's no surprise that there were other things I forgot to mention as well.
I now have a section called the PrintShop where one could go, if so moved and select from a handful of limited edition prints for purchase. Go to the Store section and take a peek.
I also forgot to mention that the first edition of my book, A Sketchy Past, has been sold out for a while now and my link is sending you to places that are selling it for upwards of $100. Very flattering, but if you want to hold out and wait for a more affordable copy, the second edition is in the works and will hopefully be available within a couple of weeks.
Happy Holidays, so far!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Randall in the Spotlight

Here is a quick reminder to anyone in the Northwestern Connecticut area to come and meet Randall de Sève, my lovely wife and collaborator on The Duchess of Whimsy, tomorrow, Saturday, November 27th. She will also be signing other children's books she has written, illustrated by other people.

I know. The nerve!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leftover Turkey

Or rejected, I should say.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Easy being green, it is not."

I'll confess right here that I grew up a Star Trek fan and if you let me, could bore you with an endless stream of Trek trivia that would make you squirm with embarrassment. Hell, it would make me squirm with embarrassment, but it's my gift and my curse, I guess. That said, I did enjoy the Star Wars films. Well the first two, anyway. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, which is one of the best science fiction action adventures ever filmed. (Really though, have there been that many?) Anyway, I was invited to be a part of Star Wars, Visions, a truly wonderful collection of Star Wars images created by a wide variety of artists from many genres. No art direction was given whatsoever and the artist was left free to create whatever homage, reinterpretation or visual joke he or she felt inspired to do.

Whenever I get an assignment, especially such a wide open one, I begin to free-associate and see what connections my frayed synapses can make.

Below is a short ride on my train of thought:

"hmmm ...


he would be good to draw... and he was actually a puppet, wasn't he?

No, he was a muppet! And he was green, too.

I love muppets.

I wonder what I'll have for lunch...

Wait a minute! Wasn't Kermit the frog a muppet, too?

Wait! Wait! He was a GREEN muppet!

And they both lived in swamps!

What if they knew each other?
What if they actually hung out together??!!

Maybe I'll have a tuna sandwich..."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Strike while the irony is hot.

As you may have noticed, I've been in New Yorker mode again and have submitted a fair number of sketches in recent weeks. Many of them have been ideas I put down on paper months ago and have decided to revisit. Such was the case with Bedbugged. By the way, for those of you who do not live in New York, it is my sad duty to tell you that a scourge of bedbugs- parasitic blood sucking insects that can infest your bed and furniture and are almost preternaturally impossible to kill, have been in the news now almost every day.
The time was certainly ripe for a cover on the subject.

Here is the sketch I submitted.

And here is the OTHER sketch which after careful consideration, I DID NOT submit.

And here's what ran this week by Barry Blitt.

PS: My time machine is still broken.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Beasts of Burden

Finally, another New Yorker cover.
This piece was a long time in gestation since submitting the first sketch many months ago. Francoise [Mouly] and I agreed that there was something to my initial idea but it wasn't quite there yet and would need refinement. Looking back on the original thumbnail, it's easy to see that it was in dire need of some serious editing.

Below is a little bit of the process I went through on my way to the finish:

My very first impulse was to show many kids on their way to school, each with a different variety of pack animal. Ultimately, I realized that I was letting my desire to draw oxen, camels and mules get in the way of telling a simple joke.
I began to throw things out.

Next, I did this sketch which felt right to me, both conceptually and compositionally, but for some reason, never elicited the response I wanted from my test viewers ie: anyone unlucky enough to be strolling past my studio. By the way, I find this random sampling of test subjects is the most reliable. Don't expect to get an unbiased, totally objective reaction from your artists chums. They know too much.

I made two major changes in the next version: First, after Randall's suggestion of making the school kid a girl, I decided to draw my 10 year old, Paulina. Second, I realized thanks to another random survey, that the child needed to look burdened and thereby communicate the essence of the idea a bit more immediately. Once done, everything fell into place and I started to get the reactions I was looking for.

I must be frank and confess to not being entirely happy with the final piece. I am almost always disappointed when I see a drawing reproduced for the first time and this was no exception. In that dreamy period between shipping the artwork and going to the newsstand, much delusional, mental re-painting happens and the final printed piece rarely measures up. Why does it always take having something published to finally see it clearly?
If my time machine were working, I would go back and keep the paint and brush work a bit fresher and finesse the composition and perspective. I think my palette was not quite as organized as it should have been and so I'd edit my local colors a bit more. I would probably show some stress in the strap connecting the girl and the donkey and might spend some more time making the main figure look more like my daughter. However, I will add that I instinctively resist going for a specific likeness on these covers so as not to confuse the viewer into thinking he should be recognizing an individual personality.

Having so many things bug me in a piece is usually enough to send me hurtling into a deep depression, but for some reason I'm not too troubled by it this time. I have some other cover ideas in the bank at The New Yorker and I'm confident that there are at least a couple that could yield something worthwhile.

I'm looking forward to nailing the next one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Duchess gets a Nod

It looks like our book, The Duchess of Whimsy has been named as a finalist for the Library of Virginia's Whitney and Scott Cardozo Award for Children's Literature. The Cardozo Award recognizes excellence in children's literature published in the previous year. The winner is determined by votes cast and I would be remiss if I didn’t put it out there and use this platform to try and crush the competition. If you did genuinely like the Duchess and feel inclined to vote, please proceed here and thanks, from both Randall and me!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I know what you must be thinking...

Doesn't he actually draw anymore?
I do. Really. But as I've said before, most of the work I am doing lately is on films that won't be released for awhile.
In the meantime, I am once again going to do a signing of my book, A Sketchy Past and what better place to do it than at the black hole that is San Diego ComicCon, which begins today. Surprisingly, even to me, I have had only one other signing in the U.S. for A Sketchy Past. I am in discussion with my publisher, Akileos, about whether to print another edition of the hardcover or go on to produce a paperbound edition. If that is the case, the hardcover edition might soon become extinct, though I don't like the idea. So if you haven't got a copy yet, I will be perched as usual at Stuart Ng's table where I will be signing two or three times throughout the weekend. I'll also be selling some original drawings and even a few high quality prints of my work (see the 11X14 print above), just to test the water.
See you there?

PS: I just installed a snappy new flipbook preview of A Sketchy Past in the "store"section of my website-

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Annecy, third and final chapter.

I did several signings of A Sketchy Past in and around the Festival and met some really enthusiastic young animators. It was a pleasure to be so warmly greeted so far from home. I believe I must have drawn the Scrat about a thousand times. At one point during an interview, I made a mock complaint of how many requests were made for Scrat, while all the other Ice Age characters were virtually ignored. At the signing that followed, a young woman came up and declared proudly," I would like a Sid, please!" but then sheepishly added, "could you put the Scrat next to him?"

Andrew Ruheman of Passion Pictures, soon after receiving the Cristal Award for best animated short film, The Lost Thing. This strange and beautiful film was designed and written by Shaun Tan and captures his unique sensibility perfectly.

Nick, Juan Pablo and I were regularly beset by young animators eager for a sketch, but it’s safe to say that Nick out did us both with the volume of quick portraits of his famous duo.
Like many of us artist types, he seems to live in his head and the swirl of motion that is Annecy can swallow you whole if you aren’t prepared. Luckily, he was more than prepared in the person of his assistant, Angie Last. Unflappable, English and rye, I took to her immediately and instantly became dependent on her navigational skills and utter grasp of our schedule. She was the sanest one among us and during any given situation, all I needed was to glance her way for a secret flash of a grin or an eye-roll. Meeting her was one of the high points of the festival for me.

Snails are so cute.
And delicious.

Above is Serge Bromberg, the jovial and unassuming president of the festival and it’s master of ceremonies, in Odd Couple mode with David Silverman, a great guy who I am learning has had his hand in everything- from The Simpsons to Co-Directing Monsters Inc.

It is no wonder that Mr. Bromberg is the president of a festival celebrating the cartoon.

My ubiquitous pal , Bill Plympton and his friend, Sandrine.

Some French copies of The Duchess also appeared, but mysteriously, the publisher himself seems to have disappeared.

David Silverman and me.

A soiree at Hotel Menthon.

Drawing Scrat for the Mayor of Annecy. That’s right, the mayor. To my left is Ron Clements (co director of The Princess Frog among other things) and screen right is David Silverman.

The animators from Argentina were the special guests of the festival and a party was held in their honor, complete with bowling and tango. Above clockwise is Juan Pablo (the latino Harpo Marx) me, Gwen _____ (our jury’s guardian angel), and frighteningly talented Igor Alban Chevalier, aka Le Grenouille Noir (The Black Frog). Not pictured from our group is Maggie Stagnaro from Expotoons, a fairly new animation festival in Buenos Aires.

My pal, Michael Defeo, sculpteur formidable and me, enjoying beers at the Argentina thingy.

Annecy, 4am

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Annecy, part deux

I had every intention of updating the blog as the week went by, but that, along with exercising and breathing, fell by the wayside- all victims of the frenetic schedule of films and feasts, that is the sad lot of the Annecy judge.
Each day was packed with more delicious food than you can imagine and every meal was served in the most absurdly picturesque spot, each one more beautiful than the last. I'll ask you to forgive the postcard pictures peppering my commentary in these posts. Annecy is as much about the films as the setting in which they are shown.
There are three judges assigned to each of the four categories and friendships were quickly forming as the days flew by. I for one, am coming away delighted to have been able to share the whole thing with two genuinely nice human beings who happen to be incredibly talented as well. I mentioned them earlier, but now, many screenings, many meals, and many glasses of wine later, I feel in a much better position to introduce them.

I confess to not having been aware of the work of Juan Pablo Zaramella, before meeting him at the beginning of the festival, but since then I’ve been introduced to his many talents, but probably not all of them. He is famous for his short films, most recent among them, Journey to Mars, a sweet and atmospheric stop-motion fantasy about a rural farmers’ promise to drive his young grandson to the Red Planet in his pickup truck. This warm and charming tale is a perfect reflection of Juan Pablo. He has a rock solid artistic sensibility, which is coupled with a kind and gentle demeanor. As the week unspooled I was also to discover that he is a masterful illustrator as well, with a truly inventive graphic sense and a surprising sense of humor. As I mentioned before, Juan Pablo, Nick and I were responsible for judging the work of students graduating from animation schools around the world and Juan Pablo was selected by the festival to represent us on stage in the closing ceremony. After revealing the fruits of our labors, he surprised us all with a hilarious film he created in the space of four hours on his iphone with help from his pal, whose name I will add when I find it.
I couldn’t find time this week to finish a sentence and he somehow found time to make a movie.

If you met Nick Park without knowing anything about him, you would probably say, “he reminds me of that animated guy who loves cheese”. He is of course, the creator of the classic series of stop motion films starring Wallace and Gromit and the connection is impossible to miss . He has the habit of saying “cheese” whenever a photo is taken of him and his voice comes straight from that universe. Trust me, when hearing it for the first time, it is almost surreal. No one can say the word "cheese", like the guy who made a catch phrase of "Wensleydale".

After viewing over forty films and debating the merits of each and every one, here are our results:

The Lighthouse Keeper (Best Graduation Film)
is the wordless story of a lighthouse’s lone inhabitant, dozing to the tapping of insects against the windows of his beacon. Things take an unusual turn when one of the bugs that appears from out of the fog is gigantic.
The color, lighting and mix of traditional and cg animation is a wonder. And from my perspective, the character design is top notch. I love this piece and after having watched it several times still find new things to appreciate in it. For example, that moment when the keeper decides he’s had enough of his unwelcome guest and flips his broom to become a weapon. A quick tap of it’s handle on the ground signals his resolve.
The conflict, the climax, and an unexpected act of grace, create a satisfying story, all in the space of a few minutes.
David François, Rony Hotin, Jérémie Moreau, Baptiste Rogron, Gaëlle Thierry, Maïlys Vallade

Sauvage (Special Jury Award)
This darkly comic film begins with a man running through the streets, naked and howling. Les gendarmes stop him and demand to know what he is up to. He explains that he wants to live in the woods and finally become a wolf. The cops haul him off and to our surprise, drop him off in the woods. From this point, I was hooked. In the forest, he meets a veteran wolfman who obliges our hero by biting him in the arm. From there we witness his transformation, all in his mind, and weirdly played out upon a stage. Quirkily drawn and loosely colored, the film surprises at every turn-from the aspiring lycanthropes' delivery to the woods to his eventual deliverance as a wolfman.
Paul Cabon

Once again we chose a hand drawn piece. It might be easy to conclude that our choices as a jury reflected each of our penchant for the hand made and hand-drawn, which may very well be so. But my main criterion was that the film should affect me, which of course is in itself a subjective requirement. How could it not be? What else can one use, but his gut? There were fewer full-on digitally animated films than I expected. This one was hand drawn in the truest sense of the term. Clearly influenced by Inuit and other aboriginal art, Lebensader, depicts a child showing the wonders of Nature to her father, all in a single leaf. Fluidly morphing birds feed their young and transform into fish, into bugs, into larger mammals; a celebration of life and renewal. I know, it sounds precariously sweet, but it’s balanced by the father’s response. Grim faced, he turns from her to reveal the scars on his back ,which tell the other side of the story. Predatory birds clutch victims, and transform into huffing demons who bare their fangs in equally fluid, but more sinister imagery. Lebensader is moving, both visually and thematically. I related deeply to the father’s sad task of doling out the painful truth of this world to his child. Life is not all fairies and unicorns and the task of revealing that, however piecemeal, is a heartbreaking one.
Angela Steffen

The biggest surprise in the whole jury process was when the winners came up to the stage to receive their awards. My God, they looked so young to me. Apart from feeling my age, it made me realize how tremendously talented the competitors are.

Congratulations to all of you!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Annecy! (part one)

I am here at the 50th anniversary of the fantastic Annecy Animation Film Festival where, as of this morning, I began my duties as one of three jurors for student films. Do not let the title of the category fool you. These are not just kids with flipbooks.These are the animation geniuses of the near future and the task of choosing favorites is a daunting one. Luckily, I am sharing the burden with two animation geniuses of the present- Juan Pablo Zaramella, director of the multi-award winning film, A Journey to Mars and a certain Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame. Two of the nicest fellows you could possibly talk about cartoons with in a medieval town perched on the edge of a glacial lake.

to be continued...

Juan Pablo Zaramella and Nick Park

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oil, Oil, Everywhere

The gulf spill continues unabated and with that will be a flood of images from illustrators commenting on this heartbreaking catastrophe. My effort above did not make the cut, but Barry Blitt managed to score this weeks New Yorker cover with a great piece on the same subject. For many months now, Greg Manchess, with the help of Tara Jacoby and Kate Fiertag, has been feverishly curating an exhibit at the Society of Illustrators entitled, Earth: Fragile Planet, work by artists concerning the environment. The timing of the show could not be better. The show opens tomorrow to the public, with a reception to be held this Friday evening. I'm certain this is going to be an outstanding exhibition.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I don't quite understand this myself.

Somehow, I find myself the winner of a Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement on an Animated Television Series.
The award is for character designs I created for a show within a show on Sesame Street, called Abby's Flying Fairy School.
I'm very happy to get this award (hell, I'm happy to get any award) but it's still mysterious to me.
The Emmy's are like the Oscar's in that there are nominees who must wait for the evening of the event and the tearing of the envelope to see who finally wins. For some reason, my category, Outstanding etc., is the only one that is prejudged so I don't even get to look shocked, nervously unfold my crumpled speech and forget to mention my wife. I do, however, get the swell statuette as seen above.
The gig came about completely by accident when I bumped into an acquaintance, Ronda Music, at my local coffee shop. She told me about this show she was producing and would I consider doing some designs for it. I said, "Absolutely not! No Way. I'm busy working on my children's book and it would be suicide for me to try and do anything more."
I started work that afternoon.
I have always loved the Muppets (talk about pleasing character design!). If anyone has ever honed in on what makes a character appealing, it was Jim Henson and it was fun using his visual vocabulary. My only regret is that they aren't actual, real-life Muppets (the show is CG). I would love a chance to design one of them!



A Gerbilcorn ( a gerbil/unicorn)

Miss Sparklenose

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Commercial Whaling

In between my duties as the character designer on Ice Age 4 (that's right, Ice Age 4) and efforts to maintain my career as an illustrator, I sometimes have the opportunity to design for television commercials. Of the handful of commercials I've worked on, most have been with Hornet Inc., a cool little production house in Soho, N.Y.C., that does a really impressive variety of work. The commercial, which is a quick thirty seconds long, is about a race between a whale and a shrimp. Below are a few sketches, turntables and the finished version.

This is one of the first versions of the shrimp I came up with before I realized he needed to be a bit more motocross.

I explored various species of whale and for performance reasons, decided on the sperm whale.(No pun intended).

Whale model turntable

Shrimp model turntable