Saturday, September 5, 2009

So, what is a lenticular print?

A Halloween exhibition simply needs more than a row of framed drawings.

I had made small holograms years before, but learned that life-sized holograms are awfully pricy. Prohibitively expense when animated. As I turned to looking into magician and theatre illusions, I came across ‘lenticular printing.’

As advertised, lenticular printing creates the illusion of motion and depth on a single printed image as you walked past. Having contacted National Graphics, I begin work on a couple of projects that resulted into two prints, Janus and Bonfire (though I planned a couple more).

Janus began with a number of short videos I shot of my son, Andrew, wearing two masks while sitting on a chair in the dinning room. Using ImageReady, I selected eight key frames. I used Photoshop to erase the background and then used Corel Painter to paint the masks and figure. The background image is primarily a heavily manipulated collage of photos taken at the Mississippi Valley Fair. Just at twilight. As Andrew’s head turns, the background image was pulled from left to right. The file I sent to National Graphics was in the gigabyte range. They needed a layer for every frame, for every layer of depth and high resolution for the size of the print.

I make it sound so simple, but I really didn’t know what I was doing -though I kept going forward. This took me months.

I wanted the next lenticular print to be the largest size that could be printed. It was. It is. 58 x 38”. This one presented a new problem as I simply couldn’t make a video of a fire that looked right or had details when printed nearly five feet in height. I ended up constructing a bonfire from photos that included details of cat’s fur, masks, and a blurry video shot at Epcot.

The resulting prints are both more and less than what I had expected. I’ve watch people look at them walking back and forth; stepping forward, closer, closer and then back. Sort of like the 2001 monolith. Yet, the motion isn’t as sequential as I envisioned.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Techniques and Approaches

In both Flight and Changelings, I drew with 6B graphite sticks and solid graphite pencils on smooth Bristol paper. I used several different types of erasers –always experimenting with different smudging effects. I began each drawing with faintly drawn marks until I felt I gained control over the composition and developed a strategy for lights and dark. Though I am willing to put in whatever time it takes, I am always on guard not to fuss too much with details. I work towards simplifying the composition to its essential elements. I often draw a closely observed edge and then selectively render a sense of details within and without.

Nearly all of the figures and background objects were drawn from my own photos. I took many, many hundreds of reference photos of houses, walls, street and cats. Lots of cats –laying down, walking, running. Doing cat stuff. I also gathered masks and various Halloween decorations to draw from and for atmosphere. Three of the Changeling drawings are based on photographs by Max Henry. Only a few of the figures and bits of background directly hearken back to images I found on the internet.

I used linear perspective to create most of the houses, fences and streets. Though I went to great lengths to make sure that proportions and perspective lines were consistent, I was more concerned with believability than correctness. Sometimes I would grid an object or figure to keep them in proportion. Most of the skies and trees were only very loosely based on photos or just simply made up. On occasion, I used Photoshop to work out a composition –combining as many as a dozen separate source images. But then again, others drawings were composed without any references -they just popped out of crazytown, my head.


A changeling is the substitute for a human child stolen away by the fairy folk. This second series of graphite drawings is not about this folklore per se, but how a person is simultaneously hidden and revealed by a mask. Ah, the stuff of psychology and symbolism.

In this series, each drawing is of an isolated, masked person against a blank background. The exception is the first drawings -the one with the two popes, "Schism Shmism". In many ways, this drawing is mostly about the unimportance of superficial differences/schisms between us. It is from a photograph of the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village taken a good friend, Max Henry. Two other drawings in the series are based in part on Max's photos. Thank you popes, cat woman and woman in a veil. Thank you Max.

In the next drawings, I contrasted the young women and flowers with their grim makeup. I also contrasted their demeanors. One seems to express that death is a part of life. The other that death is to be feared and hidden.

The rabbit mask has no expression. It tells us nothing about the person wearing it. Personally, I find such neutral masks frightening. I also find the catwoman drawing a little frightening in that the somewhat androgynous person is showing a bit too many teeth.

The drawing, Bumming a Smoke, is from a photo I took of a teen dressed all Clockwork Orangey when he approached me in my car asking for a cigarette. A bit creepy also. The last three drawings hint at a short sequence.

I've also completed a couple of drawings of small, costumed figures. I’m not sure if I’m going to expand –even greatly expand the series- to include these or other drawings yet to be drawn. I am also considering several additional series –one called "The Other' that will focus on exaggerated or missing shadows.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flight -conclusion

Hang in there, my two papal pals, I’m crossing the finish line on Flight with this post.

The next two drawings, 16-17, have the cat entering a darkened house and following a ghostly form up the stairs. Originally, the figure on the stairs had defined features. Though I was happy with her appearance, I erased the details to create the more ghostly form.

I’m not sure when the idea of transforming the leaping cat into a crow or the ghost into a white owl-like form occurred to me, however the story of Noah releasing first a raven, then a dove helped shaped this idea. The raven didn’t come back. Smart bird. Note that the crow is always drawn against a light background and the owl against dark.

The next two large drawings are flights through the present -also back through time. The first is a field ready for harvest, which is at the core of Halloween’s history. Initially, Halloween was a harvest celebration in which bonfires played a ritualistic role. Hence the large fires in the distance. The next drawing, hopefully, brings home the point that this flight isn’t a straight shot from town A to town B (credit me for not saying “as the crow flies”). In this image, the owl is returning to its ghostly form. Whether or not stone circles were sacred places, I have used this circle to convey the other key aspect of Halloween’s past, remembrance of the dead.

By eliminating the background, I wanted the last four drawings to be separated from the previous three expansive landscapes. They continue the story, but are clearly a different chapter. The cat is again a cat, has returned to earth and found a home. I added the drawing of the girl (Emilie!) carving a pumpkin to indicate that a year has passed. Having brought the cat home the previous Halloween, I wanted to convey that she now senses a change in the air and, correspondingly, in the cat. She is gazing, not at the pumpkin, but forward towards the cat in the facing page. Here, on the final page, we are finally looking directly into the cat’s face at a very close distance. Though it doesn’t meet our gaze, I wanted its eyes to look fully alert. And, of course, the series loops –ending as it began.

For all who have toughed it out through these first posts, Kudos. Kudos. Unfortunately, like a bad penny, I will inevitably return to talk about this series. There’s Nietzsche here. Joseph Campbell? Of course. Even aspects of the Buddha’s journey to spiritual awakening. Hmmm.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Flight 2

ah, mid July. Let the sun shine. Let the birds sing. Let’s talk Halloween.

The next eight drawings (5-12) alternate between images with the cat walking down sidewalks and images of trick or treaters isolated without a background image. Originally, I planned to have the cat in all drawings, but it began to feel repetitive. The backgrounds images are from photographs I have taken about Davenport. Davenport, Iowa. Though the symbolism is not as overt as in the first four drawings, the skater and jester on stilts are symbols of folly. The seated dummy alludes to the Lord of Misrule. The following sentences from the Hunchback of Notre Dame refer to this medieval custom:

“Meanwhile, all of the beggars, all of the lackeys, all of the cutpurses, together with the students, had gone in procession to fetch from the wardrobe of the clerks that pasteboard tiara and the mock robe appropriated to the Fool’s Pope or Lord of Misrule. Quasimodo allowed himself to be arrayed in them without a frown, and with a sort of docility. They then seated him upon a parti-coloured litter."

One element of the story I considered, but failed to develop, was a jackal-like predator shadowing the cat. I intended to have this predator continue to close the gap until it was unexpectedly grabbed by tree limbs. Also, the two large figures dressed in rabbit costumes in the fifth drawings meet a horned man in a separate drawing that I decided not to keep in the series. I eliminated both secondary stories because they were confusing without a narrative.

In reading about Halloween, I was surprised to learn that the word is a corruption of the evening before All Saint’s Day -All Hallow’s Eve (hallow is another word for saint). All Saint’s Day, followed by All Soul’s Day, are Catholic holidays for remembrance of the dead. For this reason, I decided to have the cat walk through a beautifully lit cemetery –not one that is frightening. The lighted graves come from several traditions, Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos and Poland’s Wszystkich Świętych, when cemeteries are lit with candles and lamps. The entrance to the cemetery is another moon lit entrance. The vast majority of the graves in the fourteenth drawing are from photos of the German-American cemetery at Division and Rockingham Road, Davenport. And now, of course, a poem, Entrance to the City of the Dead:

Up on the two stone columns
that define the entrance
Are stood two winged angels.
Through their great lungs
Though their upturned faces
Through their tapered horns aimed towards the heavens
Comes forth a great music.

One plays the song of birth.
The other the song of death.

The brilliance of one is swallowed whole
By the dark beauty of the other
And we hear nothing
But the beating of our heart
-like great wings-
With the twin songs.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flight, The introductory four drawings

1. The series starts with a silhouetted cat sitting in a window looking out at the moon. Together they loosely form a Yin-Yang symbol. Formed by the black cat, Yin originally meant shady, secret, dark and mysterious -consistent with the sense of eeriness I wanted to convey. I also wanted to create a cyclical quality to the series by beginning and ending it with the waiting cat. In addition, the window is framed by moonlit curtains. Ah, what can I say? I had foresaid it myself:

Summer's path has led to winter's threshold.
Its entrance moonlit as foresaid.
Enter gravely or with revelry bold
for with you, also pass the dead.

2. Between the moon and cat in the next drawing is the white owl mask worn by a trick or treater. The two other people are from photos of my daughter and her daughter. The story begins to move forward as the cat moves toward the open doorway. With moon lighted curtains (see above).

3. The third drawing associates the cat with a skull and pumpkins. One little tidbit I learned in my readings, jack-o-lanterns were carved originally to imitate a skull. (See ‘Yin’ above). Descending the stairs begins another cyclical pattern. After ascending another set of staircases, the cat will fly further upward, and then descend back to earth –completing a circle by moving downward, upward, further upward, then down.

4. The fourth drawing moves the story further ahead. By some 15 yards. Symbolism? You betcha. The house’s entrance is flanked by skeleton and ghost decorations -one physical death, the other spiritual existence after death. A small statue of a crow stands atop the railing post on the side of the hanging skeleton and a statue of an owl (see above) on the other. Dare I also mention the little silhouetted decorations in the lawn? Or the left-right positioning of the two trick or treaters? No, I better not.

I tried mightily to be consistent with all views of the window, doorway and stairs. I also tried to be consistent throughout the series regarding the moon’s direction and rate of rising in the course of the evening. I should post a warning here –ahead is sheer obsessiveness. I confess, I made a map of the cat’s path through the streets leading up to the cemetery’s entrance. Basically, the cat is heading north and east while the moon rises and moves westward. For the most part, the house and its decorations are based on photographs I took in Moline on Halloween, 2008.

One more warning. When I speak of positioning a cat with a moon to form a symbol, that is only one facet of my decision making or ways in which one can read their relationship. To a very great extent, I put the two together because they look right. To look right, to feel right, they have to have a pleasing contour separately and collectively; a clarity of value contrast; the right emphasis within a dominance hierarchy. They need, in short, to work with all of the drawing’s compositional strategies. They also have to strike the right tone and mood. Any object has many cultural, pragmatic and personal meanings. Simply putting two things together creates an even more dizzying number. So when I speak of symbolism, it is the most conscientious –or at least, the easiest to articulate- association that sits atop a bubbling cauldron of other associations and considerations.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Halloween? Why Flight?

Hello Pope One. Hello Pope Two.

Halloween Flight is a series of twenty-eight graphite drawings I began working on in the summer of 2007. From the beginning, I wanted the series to convey a sense of eeriness. I loved Halloween when I was a kid, in part, because of the sense of venturing out into a dark, strange world away from the familiarity and safety of home. Coming back with the loot was the other part. In many ways, the series is about making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.

For the past two years, I've also read a pile of books I gathered about the history of Halloween and symbolism. As I read, I collected a pretty extensive amount of information and developed a symbolic undercurrent to the story. All of the costumes are archetypes such as skeletons or owls for this reason. No Barbara Bush masks. No Squidward Q. Tenacles costumes. I also felt this gave the story a more timeless quality. There are also no parked cars or traffic. For that matter, there are no names or words on street signs or gravestones.

Most background images in the series are houses, streets and objects I photographed around town -usually in the daytime. I even lived in a couple of these houses. Some of the drawings are composed from as many as a dozen of these photo sources, including lots of spooky trees.

As I intend to publish these drawings in book form, I also paired the drawings as facing pages on the website. The cat or crow appear only once across the facing pages with two exceptions: at the beginning when I’m trying to establish that the cat is leaving the house; and when the cat and crow are transformed. I didn’t place either across the center of the five larger drawings because these drawings will be divided in the middle when printed. It was both a limitation and an opportunity to create images in which both halves had to work as separate images, yet tie together as a single composition.

Initially I titled the series, Halloween’s Other Moon. This came from a short poem about the moon following me when I was young. Though I -eventually- figured out it was an illusion, I still retain my childhood image of the moon –the other moon. As I continued to read about symbolism, I learned that Other Moon was an astrology term tied to Lilith. In her own right, Lilith is a fascinating figure. She is a night demon in Jewish lore and an owl in the King James Bible. Versatile, eh? She is also a symbol of death. However, alluding to her name in the title would, in affect, make us see the whole series through the lens of her mythology.

I decided on Halloween Flight last fall. It obviously refers directly to the transformation of the cat into a crow halfway through the series. However, I also liked the connotation of a flight of fancy and flight as in fleeing. In addition, it also created a fresher image for me than Halloween moon.

So... who am I writing to?

As I'm starting to write, this question has imposed itself. I know that my kids and parents (hi Mom) will check in. As will a trickling of friends, colleagues, students and people poking around the internet at 3:00 am (howdy stranger). Could I speak to such a gathering without reconsidering every word as it is uttered? Not really.

So I'll be writing to the first two guys in the Changelings series. The guys in the pope hats. Jimmy Durante had his Mrs. Calabash. Franny her fat lady. I have my two iffy pontiffs.

Hello both Popes!