Friday, November 15, 2013

Studies in Black and White - Light and Shadow - Past and Future

Buddha in pen and ink
I've done a number of studies in black and white, using pen and ink, and sometimes paint or markers. I love using the crosshatch technique, as I did in the drawing above because the drawing builds slowly, giving me time to step back and see where to bring out darker darks, and where to leave the lightest lights.

The drawing above is of a huge 3-foot tall carved Buddha that I bought from Shanghai. He sits in the center of my studio, radiating serenity throughout the room. Every so often I like to rub his knee or foot for luck, and I like to clasp my hand over his hands and soak up the good vibes. I enjoyed doing this study of him.

Coyote is buried by his wife

In the 1980s while I was living in San Diego, California, I fell in love with a collection of Pomo Indian legends that were collected from the tribe in the 1930s by two wonderful school teachers. They were able to gain the trust of the Indian people, which helped to keep the stories true to the ancient teachings. They're filled with humor, and many layers of profound teaching providing different levels of understanding and enlightenment for listeners of all ages.

In the drawing above, which was inspired by one of these stories, what I loved the most was Coyote's irreverent and fussy personality - his insistence on feeling so bad that he considered himself dead. So in typical fashion, his wife took his insistent words literally and buried him. Then she brought a bowl of food and set it near him to taunt him, but he insists that he is not hungry since he is dead. This strikes my funnybone hilariously. I love the relationship between Foolish Coyote and his wife, Frog Woman.

I spent a lot of time at the Museum of Man in Balboa Park doing research to find out how the Pomos lived, and how to make my illustrations both accurate yet a bit stretched for the entertainment factor. During this period, I made friends with Illace Lavato, the Cultural Director of the tribe living in Palo Alto and visited with them several times, sharing my illustrations with them and asking questions. I donated a collection of beautiful American Indian children's books to their library, and was invited to attend a special Pow Wow where I got to see their beautiful dancing and the gorgeous ceremonial garments they made for these activities.

Coyote flies with the Crow Maidens
The drawing above depicts a scene from one of the stories where Coyote becomes enamored of the Crow Maidens, and flies with them up into the sky, but in typical Coyote fashion, he flies too close to the sun and you can imagine what happens.... The borders on my drawings are all based on traditional Pomo basket designs, and I found it a huge challenge to try to replicate them since they don't follow our traditional mathematics - when I tried to break them down to fit them to graph paper in order to plan the spacing it was a major challenge. I ended up using a ruler and pencil to measure out the spacing since, regardless of the size of the marked graph paper squares, the designs didn't fit predictably.

Coyote watches Turtle shooting his bow and arrow
This drawing depicts Coyote watching Turtle as Turtle shoots his bow and arrow straight up into the sky. When Coyote tries the same thing against the advice of his mother, he learns that Turtle can do this successfully because of the hard shell on his back that protects him from the arrow turning at its zenith and coming straight down, point first. He learns that because he does not have the hard shell to protect him, the arrow pierces his skin, wounding him. Lots of layers of learning to examine there : )

Cover for one of the stories
I completed many illustrations, some in black and white and some in color, while working on this project. I was also able to secure an agent to see if we could find representation with a publisher. However, according to the publishers in the 1980s, the children's book market was glutted with American Indian stories so we had no luck finding an outlet for them.

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that we no longer need to wait for the approval of publishers and middlemen (YAY!), so this project has a good chance of coming back to life, given that I now have more time to devote to it, along with other projects. We'll see what I can bring about...check back to see how it's coming along!


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