Archive for the ‘Illustration’ Category

Strength in nature – the art of Natasha Newton

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
The Pattern of the Earth 4, © by Natasha Newton

The Pattern of the Earth 4, © by Natasha Newton

Natasha Newton is an artist and illustrator from Suffolk, England, whose work is inspired by the natural world. Birds, trees, stars and mountains all feature prominently in her work, which highlights the elegant patterns and shapes found in nature. There is a strength and beauty to these primal shapes, as they peel back the surface to reveal the essence of the world around us.

Besides her watercolors and acrylic paintings on canvas, she also does beautiful paintings on stones, which seem the perfect fusion of art and nature.  She has also created many abstract works inspired by nature.

Rainstorm © by Natasha Newton

Rainstorm © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Her blog is a window into her process and her struggles, and she writes with openness and honesty about her life and work. I was particularly inspired by her post about being brave enough to do your own thing. She writes how it’s tempting to do art that is safe, rather than what you really want to do:

“If you set out with the goal of painting something just because you think it will be popular, you’ll probably find the opposite will happen. But if you make unique work that comes from the heart, there will be someone else out there who loves it as much as you do. At the very least, your authenticity will shine through. And as an artist, that’s probably more important than anything.”

Her abstract art, sold in her Minimal Nature shop, is one example of how she experiments to keep her creativity flowing. She also draws inspiration from her own life. Her recent series of paintings “Birds of Hope” and “Birds of Strength” came out of an ongoing personal crisis that she has written about on her blog, and she created them as a visual reminder to stay hopeful and strong.

You can learn more about Natasha Newton and find links to all her artwork at her website.

Bird of Strength 1

Bird of Strength 1 © by Natasha Newton

 

Magic Sea 1 © by Natasha Newton

Magic Sea 1 © by Natasha Newton

 

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

 

Mountain Over the Moon © by Natasha Newton

Moon Over The Mountains © by Natasha Newton

 

We're Almost Home © by Natasha Newton

We’re Almost Home © by Natasha Newton

 

Bird of Hope 3 © by Natasha Newton

Bird of Hope 3 © by Natasha Newton

 

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The art of Maria Sibylla Merian

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Chances are you hadn’t heard of Maria Sibylla Merian before she was celebrated by Google on her 366th birthday April 2nd. And yet she was  one of the most famous and accomplished naturalists of her day.

She was born in 1647, in Germany. Her father, an engraver and publisher, died when she was three. Her stepfather was a Dutch painter who inspired his young daughter, but left when she was twelve, leaving Maria and her mother on their own. Maria continued her art, taking a special interest in insects, which she would catch and raise so that she could draw them. This would be an unusual habit even for a teenager today, and it was unheard of for a girl in the 17th Century. Her mother must have been wonderfully supportive.

Maria Sibylla MerianShe had a particular interest in the metamorphosis of butterflies, and she studied and documented this process firsthand. She was also very interested in the connection between plants and insects, and often painted insects with the plants that provided food for them. She was also fiercely independent. At the age of 52 and divorced, she took her 16-year-old daughter on a trip to South America to study the plants and insects there. Her daughter followed in her footsteps, continuing her work in South America even as Maria had to return home due to illness.

What I find especially amazing about this artist is her love of insects. Today we do everything we can to eliminate insects from our daily lives. We spray them with poison even at the risk of our own health, despite the fact that insects support our entire ecosystem. And yet she saw something beautiful in them, despite (or perhaps because of) their strange appearance.

The painting at the top of this page appears at first glance to be a simple flower arrangement, but five insects add a wildness that’s surprising and a little unnerving. We expect our flora paintings to be gentle and harmless, we don’t expect them to bite us. But in depicting insects as beautiful works of art, she is inviting us into her world, telling us not to be afraid, that there is much to be celebrated in these little creatures.

Maria Sibylla Merian was ahead of her time in many ways, and we can all be inspired by her life and her work. You can read a lot about her at this website, which has links to many articles and galleries of her work.

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Below is a slideshow put together by a fan on YouTube, to the music of Handel.

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The fantastical world of Benjamin Lacombe

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

L’Herbier des FéesNature stirs the imaginations of writers and artists. Benjamin Lacombe is a young artist from France whose work recalls that of Arthur Rackham and Brian Froud, but also dips into a spooky surrealism that is often unnerving and always compelling.

The images below are from his book L’Herbier des Fées, or The Herbarium of the Fairies, written in collaboration with Sebastien Perez (available in several languages, though not yet in English). It tells the story of a fictional Russian botanist who ventures into a strange forest searching for the secrets of immortality. The book is designed as a collection of his sketches, letters and photos, all meticulously illustrated by Lacombe. The influence of Leonardo Da Vinci is evident, from the brown ink studies to the chiaroscuro and classic poses of the characters. There is also an interactive version of the book, which you can see in the video below.

The pages of this book — and many of Lacombe’s books — overflow with imaginative creatures that often blur the lines between flora and fauna, between living and artificial. Some of the pages include die-cuts and transparent overlays to give added dimension to his mysterious world. His beautiful flowers and fairies often seem like they could devour us, even as we are fascinated by them. It is an amazing and unique vision that explores our fear of the natural world as much as our fascination with it.

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

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Here is a video trailer for the book and iPad app:

Here is a video about the making of the interactive book:

Here is another video about the making of the interactive book:

Here is his official blog with even more amazing artwork.

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North by East: the woodcuts of Rockwell Kent

Monday, July 18th, 2011

N by E coverLast summer I did a whole series of posts about the ocean, and how it was depicted in books, paintings and films. My post about Moby Dick featured artwork by Rockwell Kent, known for his dramatic woodcut illustrations for that story. A few months ago I came across another nautical book by Kent, this time written by him as well, called N by E.

Rockwell Kent was a traveler and adventurer who spent his life painting and drawing epic scenes of nature. N by E is, in the words of the preface, “the story of an actual voyage to Greenland in a small boat: of a shipwreck there and of what, if anything, happened afterwards.”

These illustrations are little gems of composition and line. They are all the more remarkable when you realize they are woodcuts, where the white is literally carved away and the black areas left alone. There is no “undo” in this process. There’s something stark and powerful about these images, which evoke more drama with two colors than many artists do with a full palette.

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

Illustration by Rockwell Kent

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Katy and the Big Snow – a children’s classic

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Katy and the Big Snow

All this recent snow has reminded me of one of my favorite picture books from childhood, Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. Though not as famous as some of her other books, I think it’s one of the best books about snow, and one of the best picture books ever made.

The story is deceptively simple – a city is buried in a blizzard of snow, and a tractor named Katy saves the day by plowing everyone out. But there are many remarkable things about this book, starting with the design. Burton was a designer and printmaker as well as an author and illustrator, and she uses pattern, shape and simplification to turn every page into a visual marvel. Take the city itself, designed as a map so intricate yet so understandable because of its simple design.

Katy and the Big Snow sample

This map becomes even more amazing when you realize that it is a template for all the scenes later in the book. When Katy plows out the railroad station, you can go back to the map and see how it matches up. Burton even adds a compass to many of the pages to help readers see where they are.

There is also a wonderful use of white space to emphasize the blanket of snow that envelopes the city. As the intrepid tractor plows through the snow, we see the city emerge from the whiteness. She plows each section of the city, eventually uncovering the entire map that we saw at the beginning of the book.

Katy and the Big Snow

There are many other layers to this book, for instance how it shows all the different parts of a city (fire department, water department, telephone company, etc) and how they work together. And it has great little details like the milk truck and bakery truck resuming their deliveries after Katy clears the way.

The repeating swirls and curves of the city establish a visual theme that is carried throughout the book. Even more so than The Little House or Mike Mulligan, this book uses the kind of decorative borders and patterns that Burton excelled at in her printmaking and fabric design. The simple palette of white and blue, set off with highlights of red, yellow and green for the buildings, makes for a vivid and memorable design.

Katy and the Big Snow

There are almost no close-ups in this book, something which goes against all the “rules” of book illustration that say you must vary your perspective. And yet it works here because it lets you follow Katy’s progress as she plows out each section of the city, and you can see not only where she is at that moment, but also the places she previously plowed out as they resume their business. Burton had an instinctive eye for how to tell a story visually, and how to show only what was necessary.

The story itself contains themes of patience and hard work. Katy is too big to plow during light storms, but when the big blizzard hits, she comes to the rescue and saves the entire city. The fact that Katy is a female tractor is never mentioned, which in itself is a quiet but powerful message about equality. Almost sixty years after its publication, children’s books about trucks and machines are still overwhelmingly aimed at boys, which is too bad. Katy was a pioneer, just like her creator, carving out new paths in storytelling and bookmaking. This is a true classic, far ahead of its time; and in some ways, ahead of ours.

The Snowman

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Snowman coverWinter is just about here, with snow already falling in colder climates. Winter can be harsh and brutal but also peaceful and stunningly beautiful. It’s a season that inspires artists, writers and filmmakers. For the next couple months here at The Untended Garden, I will be focusing on art and storytelling that deals with snow and winter, starting with a modern classic.

The Snowman is a wordless picture book written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs. It tells the tale of a boy who builds a snowman who comes to life one night. The snowman explores the boy’s house with him and later takes the boy flying through the air. The magic of the book lies not only in the story, but the wordless images, arranged in a sequential, comic book style that lets you experience each scene moment by moment.

It’s this visual storytelling that makes the book perfectly suited for animation, and in 1982 the book was turned into a film by British director Diane Jackson. This is that rare case where a film adaptation enhances the original story without losing the intent or charm of the original. In particular, the journey through the air is much more elaborate in the film, flying over cities and oceans to the polar regions and back, and the gorgeous music by Howard Blake perfectly sets the mood.

I’d like to call your attention to the animation itself, which is all drawn by hand. This film was made thirteen years before Toy Story revolutionized the animation industry. Today, 3D computer animation is king, and everyone marvels at the amazing feats it can accomplish. But computer animation is limited by computer models and logic, it has to obey certain rules. Hand-drawn animation is limited only by the artist’s imagination. Notice in the film how the mountains shift perspective and seem to melt into each other – this is purely an artistic vision of a landscape in motion, and wouldn’t work in a computer-animated film, yet it perfectly fits the magical impossibility of the story, and evokes a world where anything can happen.

It just goes to show, whether in books or films, a pencil is still often the most expressive tool of all.

Arthur Rackham’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday, November 12th, 2010

TreeNovember always puts me in the mind for Arthur Rackham, one of my favorite illustrators. I especially love how he draws trees, which are like living, breathing creatures with personalities all their own.

With a limited palette and spare lines, his paintings are full of raw emotion, and he finds beauty in the most gnarled and thorny landscapes. His palette was mostly due to the limited color printing process at the time, though you can tell he’s right at home with it, and can channel a thousand subtleties in its limited range.

These illustrations are all from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For a tale so entwined with nature and magical creatures, Rackham is the perfect fit. Notice how the characters and backgrounds are seamlessly blended together, so that the landscape becomes a character in itself. When not illustrating, Rackham did a lot of sketching landscapes outdoors, and it shows in his work. I encourage you to find books with his illustrations, to see all the amazing detail.

Also see my post from last year about Arthur Rackham’s amazing trees.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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The Sibley Guide to Trees

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

The Sibley Guide to TreesAutumn is a great time to look at trees, and a new tree guide was published last year by David Allen Sibley, best known for his bird books. The Sibley Guide to Trees is more than just an identification guide, it is a veritable encyclopedia covering over 600 kinds of trees found in North America. Best of all, the book doesn’t use photographs, it uses illustrations, all painted by Sibley himself.

Why take the time to draw each tree and leaf rather than photograph it? As the author explains in the video below, an artist has the ability to create a more representative image by combining many examples, and can show the object in the best light for the viewer to see and understand.  The artist can also emphasize certain details, allowing us to see things in a new way.

Art and science were far more closely aligned years ago, in the days before cameras, when the only way to document the world was to draw it. But the benefits of drawing have not gone away. To draw something is to know it better, and a drawing can often teach us things about the world that a photograph cannot.

Sample page from The Sibley Guide to Trees

Sample page from The Sibley Guide to Trees

The illustrations by David Allen Sibley for his tree guide (as with his bird books) are accurate and precise, yet also have an artistic flair all their own. They capture the essence and texture of the natural world. And he doesn’t just depict trees from a distance, but also shows the individual leaves, the bark, the seeds, the flowers, and whichever details are most pertinent to that tree. And the pages are large enough to let you really see the art. The text perfectly complements and explains the pictures, and both work seamlessly together.

Below are some additional links to learn about the author and his work:

David Allen Sibley official website

The author’s information about trees

An interview with the author about his tree book

Another interview with the author about his books

Finally, here is the author talking about how he created his tree guide, and why he prefers illustrations rather than photographs.

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Cartooning under the sea with Jim Toomey

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

This recent talk by cartoonist Jim Toomey, creator of Sherman’s Lagoon, is a great example of an artist who not only draws inspiration from the ocean but also uses his art to educate and raise awareness about earth’s largest ecosystem.

As he says, there are things in the ocean that are more strange and bizarre than anything an artist could dream up, and humans are destroying it little by little. You can see more of Jim’s work at his website.

And with this post, I bring my summer ocean theme to an end. I’ve had fun this summer writing about how the ocean has inspired authors, artists and filmmakers all over the world. You can be sure I will return to the sea from time to time, as I’ve only scratched the surface of this vast and deep source of inspiration. Thanks for sharing the voyage with me!

The Big, Blue Ocean

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Illustration by Alicia “Kat” Dillman

Summer is here, and for the next six weeks or so, I am going to devote this blog to one of our greatest and most inspiring natural resources, the ocean.

Since ancient history, the ocean has inspired art, poetry and storytelling in every culture. In fact there are so many great works of art and literature about the ocean, I think we’ve taken it for granted as one of those eternal things in life that will always be there, impervious to anything. The ocean is always described as “mighty” and “powerful”, something that humans must battle and which always has the upper hand.

Anyone who has witnessed a storm at sea knows how powerful it is, yet it is not invulnerable, as we’ve learned in recent months. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is only the latest and most visible blow to a living ecosystem that is slowly dying. So in the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some famous and not so famous art, books and films inspired by the ocean, to help us all gain a better understanding and appreciation of why it is so unique.

I’d like to start by highlighting a wonderful blog called Ripple started by artist Kelly Light to help animals harmed by the recent oil spill. The images in this post are all from that site, and I encourage you to check it out.

Also, the Smithsonian Institution has a new website called Ocean Portal, which has many cool features about the ocean’s history and ecology, definitely worth taking a peek.

Illustration by Gina Marie Perry

Illustration by Alicia Padron

Illustration by Renee Kurilla

Illustration by Katriona Chapman

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