I’ve had several friends ask about my “Death at the Circus” series drawings. "What do they mean?” they ask. Although that question is rarely posed by my colleagues (artists and writer friends), it’s an honest question, usually asked with genuine sincerity and only occasionally with skepticism. I figured the question deserves a response, even if I’m not sure I can offer a satisfying answer.
I find myself asking a similar question when I read poetry that wanders outside my understanding. I enjoy poets like Sharon Olds and Stanley Kunitz who write heartfelt, personal poems, but mostly keep their intentions simple and clear. Once a poet begins playing with words as visual designs (which I should like, but don’t) or alluding to Greek mythology or other literary connections, I become confused and lose interest. I don’t have the time or inclination to learn to like those poems. I’m not fond of free jazz for the same reason. I don’t have enough time in my life to delve deep enough into the forms to uncover the mysteries. I have learned a lot over the years about many kinds of music and I have learned to love later the Miles Davis recordings and composers like Charles Ives, but I’d rather revisit those artists with my days left to me than spend my valuable time trying to understand stuff that grates on my ear bones. It’s only a question of hours in a day, not a lack of curiosity.
So back to my new drawings and the question, "What do your drawings mean?" The simple answer is: Don’t look for specific meaning in my new stuff, just enjoy the quirky pencil lines, the smudgy colors and the crazed characters and structures scrawled over the pages. There is a somewhat more complex answer. Truth is, I am telling stories; it’s just that they are not anchored in what we refer to as “reality”. They are more like free-flowing dreamscapes, visual tales not meant to be understood as you might understand my commercial illustration drawings. When I approach a job for, say, a Dennis Overbye science column in the New York Times, I read the manuscript and try to digest it as best I can. Then I put on my thinking cap and begin the sometimes thorny task of creating a visual image that not only has an association with the story, but also has enough humor and energy to entice the reader into the story. Once done, my sketch has to be approved by the art director and Dennis and, of course, the NY Times editors. Once the sketch is approved, I go to final art, scan it, and send it off electronically. Almost anyone can quite easily grasp my intention in the illustration—if not by looking at the art by itself, by reading the article. Not much mystery residing there.
My new drawings are freed up from the confines of a commercial assignment, for better or worse. I assume it’s how most “fine artists” approach their work. The beauty for me of making these drawings without a specific goal in mind, is the chance to fully experience the joy of exploration. Commercial work has some of that, but the very idea that someone else besides me has final approval of an assignment has placed a restriction on my creative muse. I am speaking for myself, of course. Some commercial artists may feel that those restrictions offer them freedom, but I’m not one of them. I love simply standing at my board, with a #2 Ticonderoga pencil in hand and entering the blank page with as little preconception as possible. I’m enthralled by the spontaneity. I see it as a parallel to the way Miles Davis made music, particularly in his later years. He had a rough musical idea in mind and then urged his band of top-notch creative musicians to join him on an unscripted journey. I rely on my first pencil mark on the page to lead me to the next mark until a image emerges. There is obviously control, but I try to keep as open as possible to unexpected imagery as possible. My only setup is that--for this series at least--some iconography should relate to a circus. And somewhere in each piece, a skeletal figure will loom. That’s it. I am only trying to explore and grow within parameters that I have set for myself. Of course, I’m always wrestling with my limitations, those of imagination and drawing skills. I try to remain true to my heart and my intentions as I draw. And then erase and then draw again. I rip up all pages that have beginnings that I deem failures, but the ones that work for me are satisfying beyond description. I love ‘em. None are perfect, but they are the best I can do at this point in my life. I hope they get better. We’ll see. I am trusting myself to head in the right direction.
So, my friends, if you like finding stories of your own invention in my work, please know that I’m delighted that you are looking at my drawings closely enough to do that. But I have no answer for the question: What do they mean? I don’t want the responsibility of anchoring them down in that way. I'm satisfied with helping the drawings appear and then choosing which will remain and which ones get tossed out.
Filmed for the Syracuse University Illustration program by illustrator and Syracuse professor James E. Ransome in Elwood's studio in Rhinebeck N.Y, award winning illustrator Elwood Smith discusses his process, use of brushes, paints and paper to create the beautiful flat washes in his humorous illustrations. Click Here for YouTube Link
According to local Rhinebeck illustrator James Ransome, who shot this video, the reason for the soft focus quality of the video is due to "transferring it from PC to MAC mode", but I'm grateful that he documented a bit of my work process, however imperfect. So, thank you, James.
Also, I intend to get some more info up here on Drawger about my latest Kolinsky watercolor brush findings. Soon.
Good news on the new Pelikan pen front. I haven't been all that happy with my used Pelikan 120 pen nibs, so I contacted Richard Binder of Richard Binder Fountain Pens and he suggested I buy a new Pelikan M200 body fitted with an M250 nib. He said the M250 nibs are gold and therefore have decent spring with a fairly varied line under pressure. He cautioned that the M250 nib is not real flexible out of the box, but that he could custom tailor a more flexible nib for a fee. The basic price for the Pelikan M200 pen with a M250 nib (Binder fine-tunes the nib to assure good flow as part of the sale) costs $132.00 plus shipping. You can write to him via his site if you want to get a customized nib (click on Repair and Restoration on his main page).
I opted for a non-customized Pelikan M200/M250 nib combo and I love it! I got the medium and it's great for most jobs. I work on 90# Arches cold press watercolor paper and I can get a fairly heavy to quite fine line. I may eventually get a fine version, but one of my old 120s has a fine nib and, while it doesn't flow as well as this new one, it's okay. I'm sure if I send my 120 with nib to Binder, he could fine tune it for better flow. Or, better yet, maybe he could mate the 120 with a gold nib.
By the way, I've been using the Platinum Carbon Black ink now for a while and it's great. It's a little thicker than the old FW ink, but it flows well and doesn't seem to dry up quickly in the nib between jobs. I've let my capped pen sit for two weeks and the ink flowed without my having to rinse out the pen. I'm sure it'll clog up at some point and I may even clean the pen soon just in case, but things are almost back to the good old days.
A sample of my linework using my new Pelikan M200 with the M250 gold nib. The ink is the Platinum Carbon Black Ink. Flows beautifully and the ink is nice and dark with good coverage. As Richard Binder noted, the pen nib is not super flexible, but it's just right for my needs.
Astronauts ate them in outer space, we fed them to the King of England and one guy, in 2009, gobbled down 68 Nathan's hot dogs (with buns!) in 10 minutes. The lowly hot dog, wiener, tube steak, frankfurter, red hot--whatever you call them is one of America's favorite foods.
Why am I writing this? Well, my friends, today Dutton released Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog, written by Adrienne Sylver with art by, you guessed it, Elwood H. Smith. Run out, get a red hot, a cold beer and buy this book. You won't be sorry.
Hi, Drawgerites. It's been a long time, but I'm back with an update on my quest for a completely waterproof ink that flows well in my Pelikan 120 fountain pen. I also found a fairly good & inexpensive substitute for my Pelikan 120 fountain pen.
First, the ink. It's Platinum Carbon Ink & it's made in Japan. If you'll recall from my earlier pen and ink post, I used to draw with FW Waterproof India Ink. It flowed beautifully in my Pelikan 120. I could draw with it on my Arches 90# Cold Press watercolor paper, run it under the faucet and the ink would stay put. Not smearing whatsoever. I tried Noodlers and every other brand I could get my hands on and they either smeared when water hit them or they'd immediately clog up my pen. The Platinum Carbon Black is great. I can tell that my pen will need cleaning somewhat regularly, but I can go for a day or two without drawing with my pen and it'll still flow okay. I suspect that if I let it sit--as I could with the old FW formula--it will begin to clog up. Too bad the company that bought FW changed it from carbon ink to acrylic. I don't like the new stuff at all. The Platinum Carbon comes the closest to the old FW and I've found it to be a superb ink. It's pricey a $22.50 a 60cc bottle (at JetPens), but I'm willing to pay a premium for a premium product.
Make sure you get the Platinum Carbon Ink. The Platinum Fountain Pen Ink is NOT waterproof!
The JetPen item number is PLATINUM INKC-1500. JetPens
JetPen also sells the Lamy Safari pen I want to talk about. Unfortunately, they only sell it with an Extra Fine nib. I like a medium nib because I work on Cold Press Arches, which creates a finer line than I'd get if I worked on a hot press Arches or a kid Strathmore paper. I found a Medium nib Lamy Safari on Amazon. I bought mine for $25.00 and got Amazon's FREE Super savings. Note: I see that Amazon now sells it for a mere $23.50. To get the Super Savings, maybe you could get the converter.
Lamy Safari Charcoal Fountain Pen - Charcoal, Medium Nib L17M
List Price: $30.00
Amazon Price: $23.50
The Lamy Safari is not nearly as flexible as my Pelikan 120, but I've done a couple of jobs with it and the line looks just fine. I imagine the nib will become a bit more flexible as it gets broken in. I put a converter in it and have been using the Platinum Carbon ink with good results. Today, I discovered that JetPen sells the Platinum Carbon Ink in cartridges. I assume it's the same ink and if the cartridges fit, I can use them in my Lamy Safari. To play it safe, I bought the Platinum Carbon Desk Fountain Pen. It takes the Platinum cartridges AND they claim it flows well with it. The downside (for me) it that the nib is an Super Fine. I hope it's flexible. I'll report back.
By the way, JetPen also offers lots of other interesting imported fountain pens, plus a nice selection of Magna Pens and what they call Comic Pens. I haven't tried any of those so far, but you might want to visit the site and dig around. Let me know what you discover.
Feb 21, 2010
(Sheryl Schopfer gave me permission to reproduce her review. -E)
Platinum Carbon Black ink is a carbon-based ink that is made for use in fountain pens. This ink is essentially India ink without the shellac or other adhesive. It addresses the issue that many fountain pen artists face, of needing a waterproof ink that is safe for use in fountain pens.
As I previously mentioned, Noodlers makes lines of "waterproof" and "bulletproof" fountain pen inks that are waterproof in the sense that they cannot be washed away with water. However, they are not necessarily waterproof in the artist's meaning; the inks sometimes can be smeared with water applications. So, the inks are not as useful to those who like to sketch in fountain pen and then watercolor those sketches, for example. Platinum Carbon Black ink is waterproof in the artist's meaning; the ink does not smear in water (or alcohol, which is a terrific bonus).
Though the ink is intended for use in fountain pens, I recommend being careful in selecting which fountain pen to use. The ink is still carbon-based, meaning that it contains suspended carbon particles. Though these particles are very fine, they can eventually build up in the narrow feeds of most fountain pens.
I have used Platinum Carbon Black ink in Kaweco Sport fountain pens, Kaweco Sport ink roller pens, the Kuretake brush pen, and the Platinum Carbon brush pen - soft (one of the two pens for which this ink is specifically intended, the other being the Platinum Carbon Desk fountain pen, a fountain pen with a broader feed than usual). The ink rollers and brush pens handle the ink beautifully; these pens have fairly open and broad feeds compared to a fountain pen. In the fountain pens, however, the ink tends to dry on the nib and clog fast. Dipping the pen's nib in water usually gets it restarted, but I recommend not letting the ink sit more than a few days in a fountain pen, fully cleaning the fountain pen between each refill, and designating this ink to only a few fountain pens that you are willing to risk clogging badly, just in case the clog becomes irreparable.
All that said, this is an enjoyable ink to use. I have used it for both sketching in ink and inking planned drawings. It erases more than an India ink would, so I sometimes re-ink lines after erasing away the pencils. The ink is waterproof and alcohol-proof, so I have been able to use it in pictures that I water color or color with alcohol-based markers without smearing.
Platinum Carbon Black ink, being an import and a very niche product, is much more expensive than other India inks or fountain pen inks. So, I do not make it an all-purpose replacement for either, instead using it for specific purposes.
This is the third cover I've done for the wonderful gang at Roll Magazine, a Hudson Valley gem. As some Drawgerites might recall, I did the first cover in trade for a couple of cases of Belgian ale. I created last year's December issue for Roll & I got lucky again this year.
In early May, 1986, Alan E. Cober called me to ask me if I'd participate in an Illustrator's Workshop. It was to have taken place in Paris, but due to a series of terrorist bombings there, the group decided to move the event to the isle of St. Martin. I am generally loathe to travel, but it was an honor to get to spend some time with Alan, Bernie Fuchs, Fred Otnes, Mark English, Robert Heindel and Bob Peak. Did I mention that Maggie loves to travel and loves the sun and sandy beaches?
When I was in art school in Chicago in the early 60s--and a few years before I stumbled upon Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser at Pushpin Studios--Fuchs, Peak, English and company were the heros of illustration. I loved their work, but they intimidated me with their ability to draw with ease all those handsome men and beautiful women. I was relieved when I discovered R.O. Blechman and Chwast. Funny looking people inhabited their illustrations. No handsome men, no curvaceous women. No stylish Ford Fairlanes.
But Alan was an anomaly. Obviously, he drew beautifully, but his illustrations weren't filled with sleek women and urbane men standing around sexy automobiles. He produced drawings of quirky, real life characters with baggy eyes and lumpy bodies. He drew hard-core prison inmates and filled sketchbooks with the intense faces of the mentally ill. Along with Chwast and cartoon-influenced illustrators like Bob Blechman, Alan became one of my chief inspirations.
The Night I Met Alan.
A year or two after I'd arrived in New York City in 1976, Dagmar Frinta invited me to attend a gallery opening. I can't recall much about that night, but I do remember Dagmar asking me if I'd like to meet Alan Cober. He was engaged in conversation with some friends, but Dagmar tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, delighted to see her. Introductions were made. It was one of those uncomfortable moments when the fan gushes and the star listens politely. I could see he was anxious to return to his friends, so I gushed a final time and began to move away. Alan hadn't caught my name, so he asked me to repeat it. I did and he clasped me in a huge bear hug. "It's Elwood Smith!" he roared and yelled to his wife to come over and meet one of his favorite illustrators. An excellent night.
Alan & Ellen, Maggie & Me
Back to Illustrator's Workshop, July 1-4, 1986, Saint Martin, a tropical island in the Caribbean. Aside from the high cost of food (an ear of corn was going for five bucks) we had a great time. (Everything was imported from the mainland except sunshine, rum and sugar.) I got to hang out with famous illustrators--when they weren't golfing--and I was treated by the participants like a celebrity. But the moments I recall most vividly were the hours spent with Cober.
Maggie loved to swim and so did Alan, so they hit it off. I was content to sit with Ellen, Alan's lovely wife, in the shade of a palm tree reading books while Maggie and Alan dolphined in the clear, blue-green waters. It didn't surprise me at all when, in 1998, an illustrator friend called to tell me that Alan died of a heart attack while swimming in Florida.
We bonded, Alan and I, but I didn't get to know him well. We would connect up from time to time over the years at illustration shows. Every time we'd promise to hook up for dinner, but you know how that goes. Didn't happen He was a visiting professor and Distinguished Visiting Artist at the University at Buffalo and he asked if I'd do a seminar for his class. We agreed to trade original art and that also became one of our unfulfilled good intentions. I considered him to be my friend and he is, without question, one of America's great illustrators. A true original.
As I was digging around the web one day not long ago, looking for information about Alan, I ran upon this short, moving remembrance by one of his former students, Sandra Guzdek. It was written a couple of days after Alan died. She gave me permission to post it here on Drawger.
Alan E. - 20 January 1998
Today I found out that my former illustration instructor, and more importantly, mentor and friend, Alan E. Cober, passed away on the 18th from a heart attack while on vacation in Florida. He was 62. His passing leaves me with such an incredible sense of loss, particularly since I have not seen him since his show at Buffalo State College in 1993.
He taught me more about being an artist — more importantly, about being an artist for hire — than anyone else. His professional and aesthetic advice sticks with me to this day.
6 February 1998
I have neglected finishing this page because I did not know what to write. Every day there's something that makes me think of him; some piece of advice, a memory from class, a funny anecdote. I guess I didn't know what to say before now.
He was hands down the best instructor I've ever had. He was, if you'll pardon the language, a ball-breaker. Class schedules ran like so: assignment given out on Thursday, sketches due on Friday, finished piece for the following Thursday. (The classes were only held on Thursday and Friday because he actually flew up on Thursday from downstate New York to teach the class, then back home on Friday.) That's the way it goes in the professional world of illustration, he told us, and sometimes not even that. On top of that he expected at least a drawing a day in our sketchbooks. I remember falling behind and the fear in my heart of being caught without the requisite number of drawings was like none I had never known before.
The assignments were usually 'live', meaning that the whole class' final pieces were submitted to a publication, and they chose one to print. I actually got picked once, printed in Governing magazine out of Washington, DC. What an honour. The illustration class of '92 was a bumper crop. I am so proud and glad to have been a part of it, shaped largely in part by Cober. (Even in death, calling him "Alan" just seems weird. We always called him Cober.)
Our class took field trips to Toronto to see Henrik Drescher, a visit to Philip Burke's studio, to the Buffalo Museum to draw, to the Anthropology Lab on Campus to draw (dead creatures, including a dead person). Everything centered around drawing. In the field of art, it should. His life drawing classes were amazing — he was never interested in having the figure look exactly the way it should in nature. An interesting drawing was a hundred times more important, and it was my opposite-hand drawings that turned out to be the most interesting.
After hearing of his cancer and subsequent amputation, I wrote to him in 1996 to tell him that he was in my thoughts and how much I valued what he had taught me. He wrote back to me and his spirit was so vibrant in that letter... it's a letter I shall always treasure. I am so very glad that I got the chance to tell him what I did before his passing. I am sorry, though, that the last time I visited the university I didn't get the chance to see him because he was in a meeting.
I feel so privileged to have known him, and more importantly, to have learned so much from him. I know as long as I have the knowledge he taught me, he will remain alive in some small way.
I just finished an animation for Halloween. Maggie is designing a promotional emailer with a link to the animation. Rather than swipe a frame from the animation, she wanted me to create new art for the mailer. Several days ago, I bit the bullet and bought a Wacom Cintiq 12WX tablet. I've never been comfortable drawing with my Wacom Intuos 2. That disconnect between my hand and my computer screen drove me crazy. I have never gotten used to it. It's okay for many things--like paint-bucketing and making photos better--but not for drawing. Not for the way I twist and turn my tracing pads and watercolor paper while I work. When I'd try to do that with the Intuos, my lines looked like a 6-year old drew them. I nearly wore out Undo.
I'm still getting used to the new Cintiq, but drawing directly on my art surface is a joy. Because of the thickness of the glass, there is a small disconnect between the tip of the pen and the drawn line that takes some getting used to. The tablet has an adjustment to compensate for that disconnect, but it ain't perfect. Nothing is perfect, not even my trusty Pelikan 120. And, needless to say, not me.
So here's a preview of the art I came up with along with a screenshot of one of the animation frames that I used for reference. I drew the final line art in Corel Painter using my new Cintiq. I added the color swatches and photo background in Photoshop. Needless to say, the animation, which we'll make available for viewing just before Halloween, is a bit strange. 30 seconds of oddness. Just right for all my Drawgerite friends.
The frame I used from the animation to make my mailer art.
Opening title from Billy Pumpkin animation
Okay, I put Billy Pumpkin up on YouTube. I hadn't thought this out--I just wanted to show off my lillustration done using my new Cintiq--and now I'm afraid your expectations have jumped up to a Pumpkin-Orange Alert level. It's merely a simple, little movie. A brief 30 second clip of Elwood's weird world.
NY Times art director, Nicki Kalish, called the other day with an assignment. It's always a pleasure to work for Nicki and, of course the Times, but this was an exceptionally fun project. Normally my favorite kind of job is a simple spot, but it's also a welcome challenge to jump into the roiling waters of a complex "mob scene" illustration. "Turf War at the Hot Dog Cart" by Julia Moskin, is--as the headline suggests --a story about the increasing hostility between NY City street vendors. I was asked to create an unruly mob of vendors at war. The editors asked me to avoid handguns of any kind--probably because an angry vendor could easily carry (and put to use) a loaded pistol--but otherwise they gave me the freedom to draw any weapon I thought my characters might wield. What red-blooded American humorous illustrator wouldn't delight in the opportunity to arm a band of crazed citizens with loaded cannons and hard rock maple rolling pins? Delicious.
As best I could tell, our neighbor, Lanny Sipperley was not a complicated man. If he had demons, they were kept hidden. Some of us (me, in spades) blather on about our feelings, our fears and our opinions until the cows come home. Others (Lanny, in spades) hold their private thoughts close to the vest, like W.C. Fields' trusty whiskey flask. Now and then, I'd ask Lanny about his childhood or I'd tell him about one of my military experiences, hoping he would share one of his. Each time, he'd shift the conversation to a more comfortable topic, usually the weather or local gossip. "We live in a fishbowl" was Lanny's mantra. Locust Grove Road, is a cul-de-sac, which means you are watched coming in and going out. He lived on this street in the same small, white home for his entire life, minus three years serving his country. Lanny knew about life in a fishbowl.
In 1945, when Lanny was one year old, his parents, Vernon D. and Estelle Sipperley, moved into their modest Locust Grove home. Lanny was a good son and a good student. He graduated from Rhinebeck Central Schools, class of 1962, and earned an associates degree from Dutchess Community College in 1964. Neighbors say he was good at sports. He served in the United States Army from 1964 to 1967, spending two of those years in Germany. He enjoyed the beer there, he told me, but I never saw him drink. Lanny didn't smoke, he didn't curse. He was a man of good cheer even when times were tough. He was, in short, a good citizen of the world.
Life was not an easy road for Lanny. It is said that he returned from the army a changed man. He didn't see action, but something mysterious, it seems, happened over there. When Lanny's military obligation ended, he moved back home to live with his mother. Estelle was a genuine, home-grown eccentric—at least during the years we knew her. Often, on a cold winter morning, Maggie and I would stand at the window watching Estelle, her nightgown peering out from under her husband's old, red plaid hunting coat as she stomped through the snow with her tethered Siamese cat. Come spring and there she was, up on a ladder clicking her false teeth and slathering fresh paint on the side of her single-story house. Lanny spent his time outside raking leaves and stones off Locust Grove Road. He also worked occasionally for his cousin, Peter, who ran a plumbing supply shop in Rhinebeck. Peter was also, for many years, the Mayor of Rhinebeck. Lanny and Estelle were good neighbors—they kept to themselves, but they were friendly, willing to help out if asked.
We were concerned about Lanny after Estelle suffered two strokes (the second one knocking her into a vegetative state). How, we wondered, would he handle things without her? We were relieved and delighted when he landed a full-time job working for a local commercial landscaper. Not long after his mother died, Lanny surprised us again by starting his own landscaping business. At his funeral, several of the men who had worked for Lanny over the years stepped forward to laud him. He was, they said, a hard worker who was a man of his word. And all who knew him said he was generous to a fault. By the time he died of heart failure on December 3rd, 2007, Lanny had fallen on hard times. Still, he insisted on buying coffee for his cohorts, even when his broken down truck was running on treadless tires and vapors.
On March 17, 2007, precisely one year ago as I write this, I was hunkered down on our enclosed back porch filming birds and squirrels in our back yard. They had gathered to devour the seed I had sprinkled around our freshly plowed driveway. A final snowstorm had come and gone, leaving ravenous animals in its wake. The birds noisily exploded from view, as Lanny, shovel in hand, crunched into the picture frame. During the summer, he cut our lawn and, after each heavy snowfall, we hired him to shovel two paths—one for our postman and another to allow access to our compost container. He didn't see me on the darkened porch as he attended to his task and I was loathe to disturb the moment with a greeting. This short movie was created from footage taken that day.
It doesn't seem right that this gentle man, built solid, like a fireplug, was so easily and suddenly taken away. Lanny, wherever you are, the fishbowl misses you.
Left to Right: Susan Lienhard Holmes, Francis Landon Sipperley, Gustav Edward Lienhard, P. Vernon Sipperley and Peter Finn Sipperley - July 6, 1968
Thanks to Lanny's cousin's Karl Sipperly and Shirl Di Gugno for tracking down the photo above. It's a rare find, it turns out. As Peter told me at Lanny's funeral, "Well, you see, the Sipperley's weren't big on taking pictures."
In the “The Nomads” article below, I touched upon my guitar lessons with Cootch and Mabel. The photo of Mabel’s kitschy furnishings and the two of them sitting there, making music on their guitars, piqued the interest of several Drawgerites. A little more information about the Coutures, then, seems to be in order.
Cootch and Mabel were pivotal figures in my life, though I doubt they understood the powerful effect they had on me. I probably neglected to tell them at the time how much they instilled in me a love of making music, although I did thank Cootch many years later, when I visited him in a retirement home. I brought along an acoustic guitar and he and I played some old tunes together.
Clarence "Cootch" Couture and his wife, Mabel were old friends of my parents. When my mom and dad bought & refurbished a small resort on Long Lake, 9 miles north of Alpena, Michigan, Cootch and Mabel showed up for a week’s vacation with guitars in tow. For seven, sublime nights, I sat mesmerized, watching Mabel coax unworldly, ethereal sounds from her Oahu Hawaiian guitar, while Cootch sang Hank Williams songs, punching out sock rhythm chords on his yellow-sparkle Supro.
After the Coutures departed, my parents asked me if I would be interested in taking lessons with Cootch. I’d failed miserably as a grammar school coronet player, but the guitar touched my soul. I showed up at the Couture’s home the following week carrying my father’s small, out-of-tune, old flattop guitar.
Every week, Cootch and I would work our way through an Oahu Method “Spanish Guitar lesson. The Oahu company began in 1936, publishing Hawaiian guitar tablature lessons and they eventually added regular guitar and accordion lessons. Later on, the company sold guitars, amps and other music related equipment. When guitars went electric, Supro supplied Oahu with guitars.
If the impromptu jam sessions that followed my lessons weren’t incentive enough to keep me coming back week after week, Mabel’s huge, homemade sugar cookies were. I learned little from the Oahu lessons, but at lesson’s end, Mabel would head to the kitchen, emerging with three glasses of milk and a plateful of gigantic sugar cookies. Energized by white flour and sugar, we picked up our guitars again and the real fun began. Cootch & Mabel knew dozens of classic country tunes and popular standards from the 40’s and 50’s. With chord charts spread out on my music stand, I’d struggle along with the tunes, applying as much as I could from my previous lessons. I spent months wrestling with that rascally closed F chord, but I was determined to get it clean and on time. I wanted desperately to be an active participant in the magic.
This event took place some 50 years ago, yet I recall vividly the smell of the cookies and the warmth permeating Cootch & Mabel's apartment. Thank you, my long departed teachers. Making music was, for you, a spiritually enriching, joyous occasion and you led me to the temple.
Here’s how it all began. I’ve distilled it down to ease eye fatigue.
Maggie and I joined Susan Blommaert, a fine actress and an old flame, for lunch at Terrapin here in Rhinebeck. Her friend, Tom Grasso, tagged long and, following lunch, he and I had an opportunity to talk. He was born in 1941, same as me and was, for a time a pro musician, so we hit it off immediately. Turns out, he’s involved with a new Hudson Valley magazine called Roll and, when he discovered I was an illustrator, he wondered if I would be game for an interview. I happen to know a lot about myself so, a couple of weeks later, Tom, Roll Magazine’s editor, Ross Rice and I ended up back at Terrapin for some good food, fine brew and the blah, blah, blah, everyone is glancing at their watch but me, interview.
Would I do an original cover for the magazine they wondered, with the caveat that the budget was low. Tell you what, I said, give me complete creative freedom and I’ll do it for two cases of Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale. I coughed up a cover and Tom stopped by with the stash. Sweet.
Here’s the cover and the article. I’d like to thank Roll for allowing me to publish the article, Ross and Tom for their fine company over lunch and Maggie and Roll’s art director, Donna Calcavecchio, for the cover design.
Elwood Smith: Will Work For Beer….a chat with Ross Rice from Roll.
Oh, you’ve seen his work, all right. Unless you never ever read Time, Newsweek, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, or New York Magazine. His visual style is a classic one, with elements of Krazy Kat, Barney Google, and the Katzenjammer Kids, which has evolved into a distinctly original style that has the ability to convey a multi-layered setup and punch-line all in a single image, often without text. A self-described “humorous illustrator” at the top of his game, he still maintains a fearless curiosity and willingness to explore new genres.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Elwood Smith.
First thing we (“we” being ex-rocker and Roll “elder” Tom Grasso and me) learn over lunch with Elwood: he is a beer enthusiast, though not a beer snob, having learned the finer points after multiple tastings of a close relative’s home-brewing experiments. “I’ve always liked beer. I am not broadly traveled, but I’ve been to England twice and I didn’t KNOW beer until then.” He attributes his good health and outlook to good taste in beer (Belgian ales a favorite) and good genetics. We grunt assent and toast with a round of Chimay.
Looking back over an impressive professional career that blossomed when he relocated from the Midwest to New York City in 1976, Elwood offers a frank assessment: “Starting out, my heroes were George Herriman [Krazy Kat], Billy DeBeck [Barney Google], and the infamous Rube Goldberg. I was trying to draw like those guys. I bought the same pens, which are still available, but I never quite got it. It took a while but I managed to channel their classic style into my own voice. Thing is, even though I am known for that retro style and I’ve made a good living working that way for many years, I often felt trapped by the style. Over the years, I’ve tried to stretch beyond that way of drawing—trying to find a way to break from the conventions of things like perspective. It’s my goal to find my own voice, not my own voice filtered through those cartoon masters.” Like many artists, Elwood was searching for a personal style beyond his immediate influences, and met resistance. “I started in New York with the Barney Google style, and later when I came out with my new style, it was a smaller feet, smaller hand style. There were a lot of people who, when I gave them the new one, they wanted what they saw before, what they were comfortable with already.” Still, the change was made and clients kept calling, but the lesson was learned: commerciality and creative change would always be a tough balancing act in the ad biz. . . but not impossible. Elwood’s quality prevailed and with his new style he racked up a succession of major clients: Sony, GE Cellular One, Pizza Hut, ATT, Prudential. . . the list goes on and on. His “humorous illustration” style was easily adapted for numerous books for adults, as well as children.
Many clients, awards, and accolades later, we fast-forward to the present, and Elwood favors us with a copy of Gee Whiz! It’s All About Pee, a whimsically informative children’s book (written by Susan Goodman) that, along with its sister (brother?) book The Truth About Poop, makes full use of Elwood’s all-ages sense of humor. He’s rightfully proud of these “because they’re really good books! When you read these, they’re classy books, it’s all information, it’s not scatological. I happen to be one of those people in the world who thinks that it’s sad that, due to the repressed [nature] of this country, pee and poop. . . well, especially poop, are not talked about. I’m amazed, because aside from sex and music and drinking, having a good BM - there’s something so satisfying about that! Why don’t we make that something people talk about readily?”
Uh, how about we have lunch first, Elwood…
Another thing we learn about Elwood: If you like the looks of his sandwich at lunch, get him talking about music, and an hour later, that sandwich is YOURS, baby. “Well, I can play a little Western Swing, and I can flatpick bluegrass guitar and plunk a little mandolin. . . when my chops are up I can get a sort of Norman Blake thing going.” Elwood’s interest in music began in the 40s, while listening to WATZ, the only radio station in his hometown, Alpena, Michigan. The station played all styles of popular music - swing, bluegrass and country music and Elwood soaked up the music of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Benny Goodman. Later on, in the late 50s, inspired by guitarists Les Paul and George Barnes, Elwood took a few guitar lessons with Cootch & Mabel Couture and started a dance band with pals. They knew all of 6 songs for their first gig at the DAV hall. Ignorance was bliss.
Elwood discovered classical music while attending art school in Chicago and it is still his favorite musical form. “I listened to some rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s but it never really grabbed me. In the late 60s, when my friends were digging rock, I was obsessed with music of the Renaissance. I built a clavichord from a kit, which I couldn’t really play, but I could pick some John Dowland on my 7-course lute.” Several years ago, however, an interest in a more pop style of songwriting emerged and he took a songwriter’s workshop with Rosanne Cash at Omega Institute. Musical help came in the form of John Platania, (guitarist extraordinaire for Van Morrison) whom Elwood had met through his friend, bassist Steve Bartles. When they were recording a soundtrack for a five minute video that featured Elwood’s artwork, Platania happened to be doing some work at Paul Antonell’s Clubhouse (in Germantown at the time, now in Rhinebeck), and he generously offered to sit in on Elwood’s gig just for fun. One thing led to another, and after some demos, Platania was onboard to record an entire solo album of Elwood’s songs, funded by Elwood, with one stipulation: he wanted lots of creative freedom - something a session man rarely gets. Thus was the Lucky Dog album recorded, a truly enjoyable album available at Oblong Books Rhinebeck and at www.johnplatania.com.
Elwood’s enthusiasm for music remains a constant, with fairly regular jam sessions at the house, collective improvisation encouraged. It turns out we both really could talk music all day, but it’s getting late in the afternoon, and we’ve reached an agreeable beer buzz point, so it’s time to ramble on. (Elwood gets a to-go container for his sandwich though….darn. Close, so close.)
What’s really getting Elwood cooking these days is a personal renaissance of sorts, concerning his artistic vision. Luckily for us at Roll, Elwood took the opportunity to experiment with this issue’s cover, and share some of his creative process with us. “I drew the little bear guy with the horn in my conventional way, inking it in on watercolor paper, but without adding watercolor as I usually do. In Photoshop, I layer the line art over a bed of color dabs. . . I make these dabs on a strip of watercolor paper as I’m working on jobs. I save the best of the watercolor paper strips for use in my experimental projects. The loose color backgrounds free me up and keep me from coloring my art within the lines. I do exercise some control, but I try not to mess around with those wonderful, accidental shapes flowing within and outside my drawings. It is similar to the way I make films, letting the “happy accidents” take me down new creative avenues. It’s all like it’s happening beyond me, but then I can monitor and modify it.” Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew is discussed as an example of this kind of free-associative creation. “[Miles] had the vision to go beyond chops. The new ‘me’ is going to start doing more where I just conjure up something. . . where, for instance, it doesn’t matter if I know where the pull-cord on the lawnmower is, I just trust myself to make up a lawnmower!”
Meanwhile, the phone still rings with new challenges; Elwood and Susan Goodman have just finished a third collaboration, See How They Run, about presidential elections for Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Elwood’s wife Maggie, a respected artist in her own right, as well as Elwood’s representative and business manager, has become a first-rate graphic designer, designing all promotional materials for their cottage industry. Both stay pretty busy, but Elwood finds time each morning to ease into each day with a two mile walk through town. Dee at the Bagel Shop has a smile and a cup of coffee waiting for him before he heads back to the house to finish work on a children’s book (about swamp creatures), then on to the next project, where he will be trying out some of his new techniques. “If I didn’t have to make a living, I would probably just make my little films - scooping together found objects, collage and imagery, both still and moving, and throwing in an occasional drawing now and then. . . not even worrying about drawing anymore. And I love creating music for the soundtracks. I truly believe my most creative times are ahead. All this [my career] was just laying the groundwork, and I’m a slow learner.”
A few thoughts and a couple of photos of and about beer.
I'd be really trim if I didn't drink one or two glasses (sometimes pints) of beer most every night. I love the taste of really fine beer and I love the buzz. It softens the often hard edge of life. So does intense exercise and meditation, they tell me, but gimme a fine ale. When I was a little kid, my brother Dave and I would beg our parents for some of their beer. If they said okay (and I don't recall them ever not saying okay), we'd high-tail it for the cabinet and race back with a shot glass. Nectar for the babes.
Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale is a Trappist-Style Belgian ale.
This beer has a dark color and amber head. I find it as full-bodied as a British stout, but with that lighter Belgian fizz. I normally favor the stouts and porters, so it took me a while to get my taste buds around the unique Belgian flavor, but I'm glad I kept at it. This ale is great in the winter, but damned fine even on the hottest summer day. Much more versatile than a regular stout or porter. As the experts note, it has hints of chocolate with a fig "nose". Do I sense a Lou Brooks joke wandering into this article? Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale is smooth with a slightly sweet taste. I've gotten it in regular-sized bottles but mostly you'll find it in the large, champagne bottle size. 7.5 alcohol.
Crowds Panic As Flood Threatens Ireland
I love this photo and caption. I have no idea where I found it, since it has been loitering in my Beer Humor collection for a long time, but it sums up perfectly the attitude of those who love their brew.
I'm not fond of flying. I can drag myself into an airplane hull, but I need a few pints of beer in my belly. I'd rather keep my feet planted on a surface that is covered with grass covered dirt (which often includes my studio floor) or the floor mat of an automobile. Maggie loves air travel. A puzzlement. Being stuffed and buckled into a seat with sweaty, swollen ankles, toxic air and a single miniscule bag of stale salted nuts is her reward. And mine on Friday the 13th, July, 2007.
So, it was with some trepidation that I drove with Maggie to Stewart-Newburgh airport. Maggie was on her way to visit her 93-year old mother in Florida. I was on my way to my hometown of Alpena, Michigan for a family reunion. Maggie parted from the gate on time and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale thirty minutes early. I flew out some 12 hours later. An electrical problem. My brother Dave (see the Rat Piss and Nails video), who is a generous and loving guy (and who loves motoring) offered to drive across the Michigan Mitten from Alpena to pick me up. He made it about halfway before I reached him with my rented cell phone. Ever cheerful, Dave headed back to Alpena, promising to retrieve me next morning. I would find a motel in Traverse City for the night. A fellow traveler informed me that every Traverse City hotel and motel would be packed to the gills. Turns out I was arriving just in time for the big annual Cherry Festival. A lot like Mardi Gras, according to my cabbie, with cherry-nosed drunks on every corner. Maggie, bless her travel-loving soul, found me a room at a Motel 6. Very well the last available room in Cherrytown.
The family reunion part of my trip was wonderful. I won't sully it by talking about the severe thunderstorms that bombarded O'Hare before chasing my bouncing jet back home. I may never board another airliner, but the family union (great weather up there, too) was worth the whole flying fiasco.
Here's a short video I concocted from some some video footage I took while up north. Don't ask. My 85-year old Uncle Vern said to me at the reunion: "You are strange. To say the least."
Randy Enos is amazing. Where the hell does that creative crustacean get all that energy? He scrapes and carves out those inventive, mind-boggling, multicolored linocuts by the barrel-full and still finds time to regularly post delightful, interesting articles here on Drawger. Damn his dirty hide, he shames us all.
Which brings me to me. It has been eight months since I posted anything on Drawger, which is nearly the time it took me to bake in my mother’s oven. When Mark Matcho invited me to join Drawger, I sat on it for a while, wondering if I really needed another distraction. Once I jumped in, however, I began posting like a banshee. Then, without any real intention of doing so, I jumped right back out. I’m not sure why. I do recall becoming overwhelmed by the massive influx of new members. When I joined, Drawger had 17 motley illustrators all chitchatting around, warming their hands on an old Macintosh. As of today, we have 83 members rattling around the joint. Eighty three high-grade artists gathered together on a single blog! I am impressed and amazed. And I have no idea how anyone can even begin the chore of keeping up with all the interesting articles and the inspiring imagery here on Drawger and still find time to make art. Recently Zina Saunders and Nancy Stahl came to Rhinebeck for a visit (man, was that a double Dutch treat!) and Zina reminded me that members shouldn’t feel obligated to read or respond to every article. My old Punster Society pal, Lou Brooks (who is, finally and happily a Drawgerite), recently told me the same thing. (Conveyed, of course, via thought balloons surrounded by images laden with large, colorful, out of register, halftone dots)
So, please, heed this warning: STOP READING THIS ARTICLE and go back to work, life is short and this type too small.
Oh, you’re still here? Okay, for the diehards, I’ll continue to babble on a little longer. Anything worth doing, I always say, is worth overdoing.
Perhaps another reason I backed off Drawger for a spell was my renewed interest in making music. Too much to do, too little time. A couple of years ago, I stopped performing with my old band, “The Polecats” and, for the first time since 1971, I found myself without a callus on my fingers. The guitars and mandolin lay dormant in their cases with rust forming on their tuneless strings. My renewed interest in making live music (I’d been using mostly GarageBand for my soundtracks) began last autumn when I offered to teach my friend, Paul Thiele, to play guitar. After a lesson or two, it became obvious to us both that Paul had little interest in learning to play the guitar in a traditional manner. No finger-bending chords and endless scales for this inquisitive fellow. Miles Davis and his landmark album, “Bitch’s Brew”, were the sounds Paul was absorbing and was anxious to produce. Yeah, I know Miles learned all that complicated stuff before making those great, weird sounds, but so what? Right? C’mon, Elwood, let’s do it, okay?
Okay, what the hell, Paul.
We jettisoned the formal lessons and, without the curse of finely honed skills and music theory and, ignorance being bliss, we cheerfully began our weekly sessions. The Glitches Brew Sessions had begun. Most every Wednesday, Paul and I hunker down and, fueled by tasty, dark ale and enthusiasm without borders, we joyously pick at and scratch away on our electric guitars, pumping out sweet and sour sounds. We are accompanied by my uncomplaining, metronomic Fender G-DEC backup band. From time to time, just to keep the cats on their toes, Paul honks out a few notes on his Yamaha sax. The music we produce may not be complex but it is, I swear upon the roiling grave of Miles Dewey Davis III, a most satisfying musical experience.
Although I was in my prime a passable bluegrass-style flatpicker, I had grown bored with my playing. Paul’s need to explore a free, more experimental kind of music coincided with my own interest in creating experimental sound-collage tapestries on the computer. One thing for sure, I come away every week from our jam session all fired up with renewed determination to break free of old, ingrained habits.
As I’ve written about elsewhere in my Drawger blog, my short films and animation projects have offered me an opportunity to merge my art and music. Regularly, one medium kicks out old and muddied windows for the other. My illustration style was only minimally affected by this experimental phase. Over the past several weeks, however, I have found a way to ladle the burbling creative stew into my illustrations. I’ve included a couple of my current experiments in this article.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with David Goldin to J.J. Sedelmaier’s animation studio down in White Plains. Edel Rodriguez and Barry Blitt showed up and we joined J.J. and his creative staff for some wonderful conversation and tasty pizza. J.J. is not only an excellent animator, he is a first-rate host. It was a pleasure getting to know David as he navigated the Taconic Parkway to and from White Plains. We discussed many topics, professional and personal, including David’s frightening abiltity to burn to a crisp oncoming traffic with his laser eyes. He destroyed two SUVs before I managed to divert him by bringing up a topic dear to his heart: the collage-illustration technique that he and Serge Bloch employ so masterfully. For some time now, I have been using collage in my endless, ongoing moving picture project, but I’ve been wary of applying it to my illustration. Each time in the past, when I’ve contemplated adding other images to my drawings, I ended up abandoning the idea, figuring that the Photoshop collage approach was pretty much sewn up by Goldin, Bloch, Vasconelos (wow, great stuff, Walter!) and others.
But the appeal of the collage approach overwhelmed me. I decided it was highly unlikely that anyone would confuse my efforts with the work of Goldin, or Bloch or Vasconelos. I’ve never had the chops necessary to imitate other’s art style, even that of my biggest influences, Billy DeBeck & George Herriman. They infused my work to be sure and, although I tried mightily to cop their delicious pen technique, I’ve always ended up with an Elwoodian broth. The same seems to be true with my latest experimentation. I hope so. I don’t want to end up on the receiving end of those laser eyes.
Thanks, Zimm, for keeping the clubhouse door open. It’s good to be back.
Last Wednesday, Maggie and I were awakened to the sound of a dog vomiting. Not the neighbor's dog tossing his cookies into a rhododendron bed. Nope, the bed was ours and it was Sophie The Wonder Dog losing her dinner right there at our feet. Okay, no big deal. Like a short, squat, hairy maid, she probably sneaked up to the cat litter box in the attic and helpfully cleaned out the solid matter. We cleaned up the vomit, replaced the sheets & covers and went back to our dreams. Alack, she threw up the next night. And the next day and the next night. Bad news. Off to the vet. No lost objects appeared in the subsequent x-rays, but Sophie became increasingly listless and disinterested in her dinner. NOT our Sophie, I'll tell you.
The vet prescribed an antivomiting medication and another drug to sooth her stomach lining. That helped and Sophie began returning to her normal self, becoming interested in food and finally exorcising her clogged-up bowels. Like some kind of canine pervert, I stood this morning in the yard squinting at Sophie's asshole, my trusty poop bag in hand. As a couple of knobby turds sprung loose, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a small stick protruding from her anus. I grabbed the tip of the twig and pulled gently. HOLY MOLY, CAPTAIN MARVEL! Sophie had swallowed a 6 1/2 inch stick--probably a dried twig from one of our indoor plants.
Though I'm sure other Drawgerites have even more amazing Hog Dog stories to tell (and I hope you will), I am in awe that Sophie managed to swallow that rigid twig without puncturing her throat, her gut or her intestines as it traveled from mouth to anus. She is one lucky dog, that's for sure. Maggie oft tells the story of her Scottish terrier, Jenny, ingesting an entire corncob and of her American Staffordshire terrier, Mugsy, devouring the better part of a sofa and an entire coconut, outer husk and all, so I know Sophie's feat is small potatoes. Still, I was pretty impressed this morning as that stick kept sliding out, like a long rigid, bulimic earthworm on a rainy day.
Okay, your turn. Let's hear your tales of canine gluttony.
One of the joys of living in a small town is unearthing local treasures. I've lived in Chicago and New York City where one expects to find an abundance of first-rate creativity. I've also lived in the Michiana Dunes area near Michigan City, Indiana and in Cold Spring and Rhinebeck, two small New York villages. It takes a little longer to find the creative nuggets in small towns--they make less noise and often maintain lower profiles. Early on in Rhinebeck I discovered incredibly talented musicians and with very little arm twisting, I formed a band to play music for the residents at a local nursing home. The original band, "The Polecats", featured Steve Bartles on vocals & bass (he also played bass on my CD, Lucky Dog), lead singer, Russ Bonk, Charles Prosser vocals & drums and Tim Hoolihan, vocals & rhythm guitar with me on lead guitar and mandolin--no vocals, thank the gods.
It is possible I started the band for the sole purpose of creating a band name and logo. I drew a skunk (sometimes referred to as a polecat in rural America) with a banjo (easier to draw than a guitar, we had no banjo in the band) and lettered the name of the band with our motto tucked below: "We Stink". Some nights we did, but mostly we were pretty damned good. Those members of our captive audience still awake, were thrilled as we tuned our instruments and waited for the custodian to find an extension cord for Steve's bass amp. They were ecstatic when we finally began pumping out old Hank Williams & Carter Family tunes, actually applauding from time to time when prompted by the helpful staff. Seriously, many residents looked forward to the Polecat's monthly arrival and I'd like to regroup the Polecats one day when my schedule allows & return to our elder hostile fans.
Rhinebeck Beagle Cover
But I digress. I'm here today to talk about a new discovery. The Rhinebeck Beagle. Furless, fearless and dog-eared, the Rhinebeck Beagle is an occasional 8 1/2 by 11 inch, 4-page newsletter (still only ONE DOLLAR) created by Pablo Rapido, a furry, fearless, dog-eared Rhinebeck resident who's real name is Paul Swift. It took me several issues to finally grasp the humor and logic of the pseudonym. Not the first time logic has eluded me.
Paul published the first Beagle in 2004 and immediately won the First Annual Jason Blair-Jack Kelley Award for Fraudulent Journalism. Really, a real award. It's named after the infamous New York Times/USA Today reporters who were both fired for breaches of journalistic ethics, including fabricated quotes and plagiarism. The judges cited The Beagle "for compelling journalism unencumbered by the facts." Jury chairman Larry Flynt of Penthouse said, "Most newspapers and magazines are still stuck in the mud of "The truth shall set thee free.' Obviously, Paul is no slouch when it comes to lying through his ink-stained teeth.
The Beagle is fiction, of course, but the articles are often based on actual events that have unfolded or are unfolding in Rhinebeck and Pablo has no qualms about using local resident's names. Those in the know anxiously await the next issue and we often wait many months. Some readers probably cringe when their names appear. They are often portrayed as scoundrels or wastrels and sometimes the cringer is, in fact, a scoundrel or wastrel. Usually it's just Paul having some fun with a local bartender or politician. He is a good man to avoid if you value your privacy or integrity.
But I didn't avoid him. We have these damnable faux carillon bells bellowing around here in Rhinebeck and they drive me crazy. Two churches have purchased tapes or DVDs of prerecorded carillon music and the pastors feel a need to broadcast very loudly from their steeples, several times daily, insipid renderings of hymns & God knows what else--including the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's mighty 9th. Lo and behold, an issue ago, the Rhinebeck Beagle railed against Jesus Christ's Elevator Music, prompting me to track down the mysterious and fellow curmudgeon, Pablo Rapido.
Paul Swift and I met in late February, 2006, at The Beekman Arms, his favorite dining establishment and watering hole. It is America's oldest, continuously running Inn. The food is excellent and the ambience is woody and dark, perfect for drinking too many pints of ale. I almost never drink at lunch, but what could I do? Paul was already at the bar slurping martinis when I arrived and, well, when in the Historic Beekman Arms Colonial Tap Room, do as the Beekman Arms Colonials do. Drink copiously. And so we did.
Anyhow, to make a short story long as I'm wont to do, I'm pasting below the lead story (almost entirely fictional but for names and places) from the Summer issue of The Rhinebeck Beagle, with Pablo having some fun with the Hudson Valley's ongoing historic Dutch roots fanfare. It also marks the first Beagle to feature spot illustrations by the brilliant local artist, E. Herbert Smith. Now there's a well disguised pseudonym!
If you are ever in the area, give Pablo a call. Offer to buy him a drink at the Colonial Tap Room and I'm sure he'll be delighted to share a little local gossip and drink you under the table. Something he can do with one Beekman Arm tied behind his back!
GEORGE BANTA TO TAP RHINEBECK'S DUTCH ROOTS WITH RE-CREATION OF AMSTERDAM AT THE BEEKMAN ARMS
Store-window prostitutes, tulips, village canals are on the Empire Builder’s list
The Beagle is looking forward to sniffing around the Rhinebeck Planning and Zoning Board meetings on this one.
Over the past few years, George Banta has bought up the Beekman Arms Inn, the Delamater House and Conference Center, the Village Inn, and various other Village buildings, as if he were General Sherman marching through a goose.
Mr. Banta has now announced that he’s taking Rhinebeck back to its 17th-century Dutch roots.
“I’ve had meetings with The Holland Society, the organization devoted to friendly relations between Americans with Dutch ancestry and the Low Lifes, er, the Low Countries. They like my idea,” Banta told The Beagle.
“Holland is still reeling from the tulip dot-bomb crash of 1737, so they’ll try anything.
“We are going to re-create Amsterdam’s famed red-light district in the street-level windows and doors of my new Townsend House on West Market Street. We have four rooms there, street level. Welcome!
“The women are fully compliant with all pertinent health laws and regulations, and I’m even giving them full medical and dental coverage (although most of them don’t have that many teeth).”
Is this legal?
Asked about the legality of prostitution in Rhinebeck, Banta replied that he skirted the issue (so to speak) by procuring an Economic Empire Zone grant.
“I convinced the Empire Zone officials that many rural and small-town young women, many of them single mothers, were finding it difficult to make ends meet.
“As you know, many of these Empire Zones are exempt from most local and state laws and zoning regulations and even tax liabilities,” Banta said.
Like IBM in East Fishkill?
“Plus, I envisage getting support from the New York State Tourism Board and the small-business grants division of the Department of Homeland Security—to relocate some City prostitutes affected by 9/11.”
Holland to bloom in Rhinebeck
Burghermeister Banta also plans to foliate downtown Rhinebeck with fertile banks of tulips, certainly a plentiful spread on his Market Street sidewalk, under the ladies’ commercial windows.
“We’ll plant still more thousands of red and yellow tulips on the Delamater campus, too,” George said.
“But my favorite part of the Amsterdam Project, as I call it, is the canal system. As you know, West Market Street was originally just that, a street wide enough to host the Saturday open-air markets.
“Well, we’re going to use that space to create a canal, like those in Amsterdam. A canal complete with locks in order to navigate the hill up to the Starr Library. A canal ride in the autumn rain should be very romantic, like in Amsterdam.”
Anne Frank House
“Finally,” George said, “We’re going to build a replica of Anne Frank’s Amsterdam house. It should off-set the cultural backlash we’ll probably get from the ladies in the windows.
“We will have live actors re-enact scenes from Anne’s famous diary—young, local Jewish girls dressed like Anne, and big, burly German farmers as the Gestapo. It should be great fun!” George said.
I'm finally recovering from my gig with the wild and wooly "National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards Weekend", which took place in Chicago this past Memorial Weekend. I've long been an admirer of "real" cartoonists--that is, those illustrators who write and draw self-contained comic strips, single panels, political cartoons & gag cartoons. I started out wanting to be a cartoonist, but life has a life of its own. Once out of art school, I needed a salary job to replace my grocery store stock boy status, so I landed a job as an assistant to the assistant art director for Irving-Cloud, a small publishing house an hour north of Chicago in Lincolnwood, Illinois. There, I had an opportunity to draw regular spot cartoons for "Jobber Topics" magazine, but I soon became enamored with typography and design. I worked as an art director for about 8 years in publishing and advertising before I finally plunged headlong into illustration full time.
Although my style comes directly out of the Cartoonist Hatbox, I've never thought of myself as the genuine article. The Reuben Weekend, however, followed by an event this past weekend in Chatham, Connecticut has given me the courage to rethink my self image.
Maggie and I flew to Chicago on my birthday, May 23rd and we ended up in a ritzy hotel right next to the river on Wacker Drive. I stood looking out the window from the 26th floor of the Renaissance Chicago remembering myself as a 19-year old greenhorn, suitcase in hand, getting off the bus at Chicago's Greyhound Station in the Autumn of 1960, ready to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. I lived and worked in Chicago until I moved to the Michiana Shores area in 1973 and to NYC in 1976. It felt good to be back. The Reuben Award thing didn't begin until the 26th, so Maggie and I had some time to spend with her daughter, Annie, who moved there recently, having fled New Orleans just before Katrina hit. We also had dinner with my ex-wife & her spouse and that, too, was a pleasure. One of those rare divorces that didn't turn ugly. Maybe there were fewer lawyers back in '71. We also saw some wonderful art at the Art Institute and caught a slew of mind-boggling original Chris Ware pages at the Museum of Contemporary Art where we ran into DRAWN! creator and all-around-nice-guy, John Martz who I'd just met a day earlier at the Reuben event. We all stood in awe of Chris Ware's lonely, beautifully drawn world.
Oh, right, the Rueben Award event!
Rick Stromoski, who is the new Cartoonists Society president, invited me to speak at the 2006 Reuben Awards weekend and, since it was going to be held in Chicago (Maggie was born there) and Ralph Steadman & Everett Peck were going to be there, I really had to say yes. Also, I couldn't resist being a featured speaker at a genuine CARTOONIST award ceremony. Well, I'm here to tell you, it was great! Steve McGarry (the former president of the Society) and Jeff Keane were generous with their time and expertise, helping me set up my (first) PowerPoint presentation. Stromoski was a gem, making me feel right at home. I figured I'd be a bit of the "odd man out" at this all-cartoonist gig, but as it turned out, cartoonists follow illustration nearly as closely as we illustrators follow the cartoonists.
One very talented guy I hadn't heard of, who was the Master of Ceremonies at the Rueben Awards evening, did a hilarious standup comedy routine. His name is Dan Piraro and he's been the MC now for several years and obviously knows all the prominent member's foibles. His strip is "Bizarro" and he was honored with the Reuben Award for Best Newspaper Panel Cartoon by the NCS three years in a row. In addition to a book of his work & life's story entitled "Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro" Dan has created a wonderfully weird-sounding comedy routine called "The Bizarro Baloney Show", which I have to catch somewhere ASAP. It's gotta be a 5-Star event.
Ralph Steadman offered a rambling slide presentation which, for some in the audience, went on too long by half, but I enjoyed every minute of it. He's an eccentric--kind of like Anthony Hopkins in "The World's Fastest Indian", but much more acerbic. A very funny guy, although like his art, he's ready and willing to wield sharp objects--spatter some acid-laced India ink around the room. I talked with him for a while at a party and found him to be charming. However, when he accepted his Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, he used the opportunity to lambast America (mostly) and England (somewhat) and then go on to berate cartoonists in general for lacking any real political courage. Many at the event were offended and decided Steadman was out of line to use the Reuben Weekend to vent his spleen. Others (I was among them) figured if you ask Ralph Steadman to your party, you should anticipate the unexpected. In fact, Jeff Keane, who currently draws his dad's creation, "Family Circus", talked about it at a party later, saying that he didn't necessarily approve of Ralph's behavior or agree with his views, but was not surprised nor particularly dismayed by the rant. It seemed to me to add another wonderful texture to a widely varied and entertaining weekend.
So, that's Part 1 on "How I Became a Cartoonist". I'll make Part 2 short and sweet.
Maggie and I spent all day Saturday, June 3rd at the CartoonFest, a fundraiser for a small library in Cornwall, CT. We were there most of the day. The gig included several talks, a silent auction and a free dinner for participants, followed by a great one-woman show by New Yorker cartoonist, Victoria Roberts. I thought the event was to be held last weekend while we were in Chicago, but once I realized that Maggie and I were able to attend, Liza Donnelly, who'd invited me to participate, asked me to be on a panel with R.O. Blechman, Danny Shanahan, Jack Ziegler, Bill Lee & Peter Steiner. All participants had original art for sale in the library. The artists are splitting all sales with the Cornwall Free Library, so the whole event was for an excellent cause. Liza is married to Michael Maslin, another great New Yorker cartoonist who was involved in the event. They, along with Shanahan, live here in Rhinebeck. Good company!
After we were given a simple, but tasty meal, New Yorker cartoonist Victoria Roberts appeared onstage as one of her cartoon characters, Nona. She is simply amazing! Catch her if you can. It's a one-woman show (with piano backup) and she fully inhabits the character. Vivacious Victoria transforms herself into an elderly, doddering, extremely odd woman with bright orange hair & chattering teeth. She danced. She sang. She told wonderfully weird short stories, wearing a Japanese kimono & ballet slippers, Victoria, wearing a cordless microphone, regularly wobbled over to a box of props, sometimes seeming unable to recall where she was going or what she set out to do. She ended the show with a kabuki dance. Try to imagine Blossom Dearie as a kabuki dancer. Another 5-Star review!
Victoria Roberts as Nona
So, Drawgerites, that's how, in just two (2) consecutive weekends, I became a full-fledged cartoonist. And proud of it.
CF Payne & EH Smith making a toast.
Dang, I forgot to mention that the great Chris Payne was at the Cartoonist Society gig. Now there's one hell of a powerhouse. Energy & talent to burn.
1. I am busy as a bovine trying to get a batch of assignments done before next Tuesday. That's why you haven't seen much new stuff on my blog. Also why I've not responded to other Drawger's blogging. And won't be here much until around May 30th.
2. Maggie & I leave for Chicago on Tuesday, May 23rd for the National Cartoonists Society's big Reuben Weekend which happens Friday, May 26, Saturday, May 27 & Sunday, May 28. At 3:30 PM on Friday, I'll be giving a PowerPoint talk about, big surprise, Elwood H. Smith. I'm calling it "Moving Forward, Looking Back" and it's an overview of my life. I'm doing it in real time which will take 65 years. Sandwiches and soda pop will be available. I also will get to hang out with Ralph Steadman and Everett Peck, which is why I said I'd do it. Is that cool or what?
3. I'll spend my birthday flying to the Windy City, where I went to art school and lived for many years. This is a big year, the year I become a genuine Senior Citizen. So weird. Maggie just handed me my Medicare card. I guess I should ask Randy about canes and walkers & such. So weird.
Drawger Alert! Drawger Alert! Do yourself a favor and check out "3x3", a magazine dedicated entirely to Contemporary Illustration. 3x3
According to Steve Heller, who recently interviewed Charles Hively, the founder of 3x3 for AIGA, the first issue premiered in December of 2003. Man, I guess I'm more of a hermit than I thought. It was only a couple of days ago that I discovered 3x3 via the DRAWN! blog and it looks like a beauty. I haven't seen a copy in the flesh (oddly enough, the entire magazine is printed on human flesh), but I will get a copy ASAP. It may be that every other Drawgerite has seen a copy, but I'm forging ahead with this article anyhow. Illustrators and illustrator-related media need all the attention they can get.
Hively has worn many hats, including those of an Advertising Agency Art Director/Creative Director, Graphic Designer, Copywriter and Illustrator. I wrote to him for any additional information he might want to share beyond the interesting stuff in the excellent Heller interview. He wanted Drawgerites to know about the 3x3 Annual Show, which just closed for this year. They publish an annual of the best student and professional work done the previous year. Their first annual received an award in CA's Design Annual 46, and their cover featuring the art of Marcos Chin will appear in the upcoming CA Illustration Annual.
From Hively's letter:
"We're having a devil of a time getting the book on bookshelves, so this year I actually made it a special issue which is on newsstands now, same format, 6x9, 144 pages, but just added ads to this version; the annual is for sale on our web site sans ads here as well as our two previous annuals. I'd encourage every illustator to enter our show but it's a tough show and we always get some of the best judges to judge the work."
The 3x3 cover I've posted below is the upcoming issue. According to Hively, it will feature Benoît, Olaf Hajek and UK's Paul Davis. It also has a Q&A with Tomi Ungerer. 3x3 calls it their "International issue" and it'll be on newsstands in early June. Hajek did the cover and the issue will include "insightful articles", photos of Olaf and Benoît's studios and superb reproductions of their work.