Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Leaving the NEST on Illustration Friday

     Yay! It's Friday!... Illustration Friday, and everyone's energy is high and hopeful for the delights of the weekend.  This week's topic was NEST and once I read it the word for the week, I thought of this illustration almost immediately.  I love it when the ideas come quickly... It makes me excited and burning with passion to work on them. lol

     I had previously mentioned, I have decided for this next year to take half of the Illustration Friday Topic Words and create my own personal Mini-Challenge.  The challenge is to illustrate just children form all over the world and celebrate the diversity of us all, but also to do a little creative writing about each one just to brush up on those rusty-dusty writing story writing skills. (p.s. I have been working on developing the story for a Picture Book I plan to work on in 2017 and Self-Publish by the end of that year.... Ah my ambitious Pre-New-Year's Resolutions. lol)

...But before I get get into the who's, the what's, and the why's of the art, this week, as promised:
a story first...

Eiko Sato and the 3 Cranes
-Lewis W. Porter-

     Little Eiko Sato was a young girl like any other in her small rural village in Japan.  She worked hard at her studies in school and to understand and follow the lessons her family taught her.  She also loved to play in the small woods at the foot of the mountains where she lived and she did so as much as she could.

     She always thought how beautiful the leaves on the trees were as they danced in the gentle breeze outside her window every morning.  It was like music to her. Sometimes she would join the leaves in their dance. Eiko would whirl and twirl around her room many mornings before it was time to help her mother begin the chores of that day.

     One special morning she woke, not to the familiar sound of the dancing leaves, but to a new one she had never heard.  It was a chirping and very shrill chirping.  Little Eiko was quite curious about the sound.  Since it was quite early, too early yet for daily chores, she decided that she would go outside and investigate the curious noise that had disrupted what would have been a morning like an other.

     Eiko slid open her bedroom door slowly and tiptoed across the house as quietly as she could.  She didn't want to wake her family.  She knew she was probably not allowed to leave the house if no one else without telling her mother, but she was so very curious about this chirping; she just had to know what it was.  As she quietly slipped outside, she made her way across to the woods.  As she approached the trees, the chirping became louder and louder.

     She was not afraid.  Eiko was a brave girl.  She wove in and out through some of the trees following the chirping.  They seemed to dance around her as if they were happy she had returned to play with them.  She approached a tree, not far from the edge of the wood, that seemed to be where the chirping was coming from.  She was a bit confused as she had never heard of a chirping tree, at least she had never encountered one in the woods before.  Surely a tree could not be making this sound.  She inspected it closer.  As she made her way around the tree, she discovered what was chirping so loudly.

     It was a baby crane.  It was in the shambled remains of it's nest that must had fallen from the tree above and the shell of the egg it must have just hatched from.  The poor thing was not alone.  There were  2 more eggs in the broken nest.

     Eiko quickly looked around for the baby crane's mother or father.  Surely they would be close by, but she couldn't see a sign of them anywhere.  She leaned down to calm the baby crane.  She petted them on the head until the chirping stopped.  The began to coo softly, happy that Eiko was there.

     "Don't worry little bird." she said to it. "You are not alone. You don't have to be afraid any more."

      Eiko waited a little longer for the crane's parents to come, but they did not come.  She was beginning to worry, but then she had an idea.  If no one was able to help these baby cranes, then she would.  She knew it was her job to help them if she could... But how?  How could she help them?

      How? How? How?

     Then Eiko jumped!  She knew exactly what she could do!

     She ran back to her house and quietly slipped back inside.  She wasn't gone long before she was back with some hair clips and pins.  She told herself that if the cranes needed a nest to live in, then she would make one for them... out of her own hair.  She decided it was up to her to help raise them until they were big enough to fly off on their own. And that is exactly what she did.

      Little Eiko stayed in her bed for a few days after.  She told both of her parents that it was her job to help those that could not help themselves.  She had to stay in bed with the covers over he head until the the other two had hatched. She slept sitting upright every night, so that they would not fall once more from their nest. Her mother was glad that it didn't take but a week for the eggs to hatch.  Now, Eiko had 3 baby birds in her hair-nest, but they were all still too young to go out on their own... So Eiko decided that they would come with her, every where she went.  They went to school. They came home. They enjoyed the village when it was time to do the food shopping.  To her parents dismay, they even joined her for supper every night.

     Her parents were both concerned for her.  They were not happy about the three birds, but knew that it was very important to Eiko to raise them.

     It began to seem that the entire village had come to love these three birds.  They began feeding the birds and calling to them every morning as Eiko would walk to school.  The word began to spread to neighboring villages, as many would come to Eikos village just to catch a glimpse of them and the young girl that made a nest for them in her hair.

     A few seasons passed, and the 3 cranes began to spread their wings and fly from Eiko's head to the close by trees or the rooftops to close-by buildings and then back to their nest as Eiko would go on her daily walk through the village.  She was so excited to see that the three cranes were doing so well.  It made her happy, but this also made her sad.  She knew it was soon time to say goodbye to her three friends.

     One morning, not long after the cranes began to fly on their own,  Eiko woke up and noticed that her head felt much lighter.  She reached up into her hair-nest and felt... nothing. She felt nothing!  Eiko began to panic and she looked all around for the three cranes.  She looked under her bed.  She checked under the covers.  She even looked in her closet.  She could not find them....

     Eiko then heard chirping, faint chirping.  She turned and saw outside her bedroom window, the three cranes perched in the tree outside.  She woke both her parents and they all went outside to see them.  The three cranes all looked down and chirped three happy chirps at the family below before they spread their wings and each flew off of the branches and up into the sky toward the mountains.

     Both Eiko's parents leaned down and gave Eiko a hug.  They each reminded her, in their own way that it was just time for her baby birds to go out and live on their own.  Eiko shed three small tears, one for each of the baby cranes she had raised and set free.  She was sad that they had to go, but happy that it was she who helped them, when they had no one else.

     That night, Eiko brushed the nest out of her hair.  As she did, she pulled out of her hair exactly three crane feathers.  She smiled, hugged them ,and placed them under her pillow as she lied down for the first time in many many nights to dream once more.

     Little Eiko never forgot those three baby cranes.  Even as the years went to on, and Little Eiko became not so little anymore, she still held on to those three crane feathers.  She grew up, married a very kind man and had three little babies of her own.  She tells them all the story of the three baby cranes that grew up in a nest of hair on top of her head and she tells them that they should always help others, especially when they can not help themselves.  Eiko then would go to sleep and tuck three very old crane feathers underneath her pillow before sleep.

     As is every night, when Eiko closes her eyes to dream, she can often hear the fain soft chirping of three cranes in the tree outside her window.

The End.

...and now, we talk about the art.

     The image in my head was of a young girl with a nest of birds in her hair, but I'm not quite sure why I chose Japan as the setting and nationality of this week's character.  Sometimes you just decide things as an artist, and not even know exactly why you choose them.  Among the regular reference research I did for the the young Japanese girl, the crane and the kimono, I also sought out a variety of Japanese paper paintings.
I studied them and just fell in love with the light and faint quality of the color work and strong elegant line.  I loved how it was "stained" on to the surface and really wanted to bring that element into my illustration.  I worked several layers into the skin tone sort of melted the layers together to give it a pale, stained and almost watercolor, look to the piece.  I juxtaposed this technique with the other visual element i wanted to include in the illustration as well: Origami printed papers.  I was excited about the idea of including this thousands of years old tradition into my piece as well.

     This sort of visually paralleled one of the themes that I wrote about in the story; traditions and life-lessons being passed down from generation to generation.  Origami seems that way to me, when I think about it.  You find yourself with a perfectly uniform start in life then by the events and lessons you are bent and folded this way and that, often not knowing what, where or why you are going that way.  The form seems chaotic and without a logical shape... and then you find that you are a beautiful crane of elegant form with many many colors and patterns.  So, it was very important for me to include the ancient tradition of origami in my piece.  You see the printed paper in her kimono (a traditional garment of Japan.)  You may notice, if you look closely, that the design on the printed origami paper is that of cranes taking flight. ;0)

     As there are many birds that are native to Japan that I could have chosen from, I was "drawn" to the crane.  The crane is one of the creatures that are sacred to the culture and also one of mystery.  I liked adding this conceptual element to the piece as well as it rounded off including 3 cultural traditions into the illustration and the story is about three birds nested in Eiko's hair.  I like to think that they represent all the creative thoughts and dreams that make a person what they are... at least that's what I imagine when I thought about these particularly beautiful birds.  As an after thought, I liked their long elegant necks which added a nice touch to the work.  I enjoy the curve of the bird's neck as it "crane's" down to look at Eiko and the curve of her arm as she reaches to pet the bird.  Conceptually representing your connection to the before mentioned meaning behind what the birds and the eggs represent to me: dreams and creative thought.

     A few words behind the short story:  I wanted to write a short parable that captured the essence of some of Japan's cultural and family values.  Though there are many, I have listed the values I used to write Eiko's tale below:

-Showing compassion to those in need.
-Working hard for success.
-Being generous with what you have.
-Not hurting others and also standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves.

     There is also meaning in Eiko's name that contributes to the theme of her story.  Her surname, Sato, means "to aid."  Also, it just happens to be the most common surname in Japan.  That fact did not weigh in at all in the context of the writing process.  I just thought it was an interesting fact.  Her given name, Eiko, means prosperous child.  Even though, Eiko does prosper always in her endeavors because of all her hard work and effort, I honestly chose the name because of the song Iko Iko, which I adore.  I was looking through a list of Baby Names for Japanese girls and "Eiko" showed up. I immediately began singing the song in my head and knew that THIS was definitely the right name for her.  Though, it is of Native American origin and popularized in New Orleans as a parade song.  The song is actually about the clash of two tribes and I thought this quite appropriate to the story I wanted to tell.  It is the clash of two tribes, Eiko's and The Cranes.

     Another theme that I wanted to include in the story, since the topic for this week was Nest, was the Empty Nest.  I decided the story was not only about helping others in need but also about what family really is.  To me, family isn't just about blood. Sometimes family are strangers that come into your life for periods of time and then they go, but it's that connection, that bond that you make with them that makes them family.  I really liked the idea of these birds enter Eiko's life as a mere cry for help, but they leave her life as parts of her. She is forever changed by this experience and to me that is what is very human and universal about her story.  The story is also about how we leave nests, constantly, throughout all our lives and move onward to whatever comes next in life or even death.

     The feathers that she passes on to her children later on also have meaning in this story.  They represent these parts of us that connect and change us that we give to the generations to follow.  I originally had more in the story with the imagery of the feathers: molting of the feathers the grown of them etc.  I edited most of it out because the story needed to be a short one so only tidbits of the feathers imagery is left in... just the most important ones.  lol.

     Well, I hope you all enjoyed Eiko's story and the story behind the story and the illustration.  I wish all a very happy rest of your Friday's and hope your weekends find you among strange new people to make new connections with.  I leave you all with the fun song that influenced Eiko's name and that I sang to myself through much of the creative process of this week's project: Iko Iko.  Enjoy.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Little RAIN on Illustration Friday

     Yeah! It's Illustration Friday and I fell pretty good with what I kinda sorta "threw" together.

     I had decided, not long ago, that I needed to practise drawing diversity amongst the children I was illustrating.  This was originally a separate project for me to work on, but I never really seemed to be able to get around to doing it. I would also always get bogged down in the details of what else would be in the image with them and so move on to other things thinking I would revisit this challenge later.

     Well... Later has finally come lol.

     I had a thought a week or so ago about using IF Friday projects to do this.  I'm not certain as to why I didn't think of it a few years ago. It seems like a simple and logical jump that my mind never made.  So anyway this is my first week in the coarse of that study.  I have decided to challenge myself for a whole year and weekly illustrate a new child based on IF Friday's topic.  In my own mind I am excited about this brilliant new and fun challenge.  I'm also thinking of adding a very short story that describes who they are to brush up some of my story writing skills which are quite dusty at the moment as I haven't written in some time.

     This week's topic was RAIN and I instantly thought of this image in my mind.  I wanted a young girl in her colorful rain slicker with her dog under a cute umbrella.  The rest just fell into place with some image reference research (as always) and a fun evening of sketching.

     In any case, there isn't much more to say about her.  She was just a fun kick-start to my new bi-weekly challenge.  Stay tuned for more fun illustrations and perhaps some short stories. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your Friday and weekend.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stairs Aren't Just Stairs, If You Are Looking Properly.

      So something I had done a while ago, I wanted to share.
I feel that environment and community are the most important factors in creating art.
Everything that encompasses; you, affects you as an artist; where you live, the people you meet, the passers by that drive beside you on the road, the food you eat, the music you listen to, the films you view, etc.

      One of the things that always fascinated me when I study the great artists of the past was their selection of subject matter when creating still life pieces or landscapes.  They always expressed the environment around them.  It makes me curious about what their daily lives consisted of, because their choice of subject matter was always based on something that was close by and a part of their every day life.  It certainly can fill a "playlist" of YouTube-Daydream-Videos in your head of what their lives must have been like.  I imagine that sometimes and I like to think that I'm not alone in that curious and, perhaps, somewhat odd pastime.

      Sometimes I just like to go out in the space around me and capture that.  One of the fun things I was required to do as an art student was to sketch my environment around me in watercolors. So, I try to do that as much as I possible.  It "grounds" me as an artist and as a human being; being aware of everything around me whether living or non-living.  Everything has a voice and can speak to you.  All you have to do is just listen, grab your pens, pencils or paintbrushes and just document your own individual small world around you.  Of course, this means that what you perceive and experience is completely subjective in the sense that this is what you personally feel or see right next to you.  This can be one in several definitions of what makes us all artists. We are the filters of our own environments... but I stray (as usual) from what my point of what most of my posts are about... the art.

     This post is about a piece or sketch, really, of the iron stairwell that is located right outside of the apartment I live in.  It's a VERY narrow alleyway and the stairs take up the entirety of it.  Their "practical" purpose is to serve as a fire escape for the building, but they have been so much more to so many since their inception into this world.  This stairwell, in particular, has quite a sentimental meaning to me.  It is the one singular space where everyone that live here meets; whether we are all coming or going, smoking, escaping, having a friendly conversation with others far away over the phone, talking to each other about the events that occur in our lives or what is going on outside where we all live.  I have made many friends on these stairs.  They have a very fond space in my heart.  I will always think of them fondly not matter what space or time I live in for as long as I continue to exist. I think we all have very special places in this world that we think of in this manner...  So I sketched this one.

     I wanted to make sort of an ode to thisspace in the universe that has brought me and so many others so much joy, solace and sanctuary.  I wanted to honor this space in some way... So I drew/painted it.

     Also, not really as an aside, I used to write poetry.  When I was in college, I took a poetry class taught by one of the most interesting individuals I have ever had the pleasure and privilege of meeting and learning from.  Her name was Dr. Furlong.  Even though, admitting shamefully, I have made a few disparaging jokes at her expense (mostly just post-teenage/early-twenties angst at work), She is a brilliant poet and taught me everything I know about what it means to write genuine "good" poetry (the kind I don't mind sharing with the rest of the world.)  Dr. Furlong will always be iconic inside my mind in how her visage manifests inside my memory.  She was a trim and lean woman; pale skin with long dark hair.  I could never discern whether it was jet black or if it was a dark brown, as it would perform a seemingly metamorphosis between the two as the light would dance across it.  She would wear a "uniform" of sorts.  She would never wear the same clothes at any given time that I ever saw her, but it would always be an ensemble of darkly-opaque sunglasses, a sweater dress, form fitting leggings (with the foot stirrups) and flat pumps.  Each day they would change in shade or pattern but the ensemble would always be concretely consistent.

     I can remember, vividly, her sitting in her desk chair in the top of the room, while we students surrounded her in a circle of desks.  She would coolly relax her arms upon the arms of the chair, as if they were kin hugging each other; sisters from another mother, and she would sigh with such Shakespearean drama and effect...  Then before she drew another breath, she would exclaim in such virile veracity,"It has to be DEEEEEEEEEEP!"  She was, of course, refering to the peotry we were assigned to write for her.  Dr. Furlong was not a woman that is, in the slightest, interested in wasting a single second of her life reading any sum of words that might be considered remotely trite.  She was only interested in the most genuine feelings and emotions that we were capable of placing in the written word.  She was truly a Beatnik Poet from the American 1950's time-traveled forward to teach the lucky few that had the opportunity to learn from her.  She taught me everything I know about poetry... well her and Mr. Keeting from the film Dead Poets Society.  One thing that stands out above all others was her emphasis on the importance of clarification and well developed... scratch that: very very very very well developed imagery.  She could always, also, be heard reciting,"Develop the IMAGE! Deeeeevvvveeelllloooooppp the IMAGE!" lol ;0)   ...and that's exactly what I did from then onward.

     I am, in retrospect, most grateful to her for instilling in me the notion that I should only share when I felt moved to do so.  I have been writing poetry exactly that way ever since...

     So...  Suffice to say, I don't write poetry very much unless I am inspired to do so.

     I bring all of this about to explain that I wrote a poem about these stairs.  They do strike a chord so deep inside me that I felt compelled and inspired to write about an experience I had upon them one wonderfully inspired evening.

     I remember, vividly, that I was up very late as I was infused with such creative energy as I worked on my Wolf in Sheep's Clothing illustration.  I was having a smoke outside on "the stairs," as I sometimes do when I'm working on my art projects.  I had head phones on and all of the sudden a piece of music began to play...  I'm uncertain as to why it was calling to me, but it did.  As I listened to the song I began to dance, and as the song began to wan, I set my music player to loop that particular song...  and as my cigarette began to wan, I looped that also, smoking cigarette after cigarette mulling over a notion that had come to me.  I had an "experience" on those stairs and as my mind and eyes became one, I finally "saw" the stairs, maybe for the first time, for what they truly meant to me;  what that space truly meant to me... and so I danced there; right there on those very stairs.  As I danced, alone, in the wee hours of the morning, whilst words, beautiful words, came to me.  I don't know where they came from nor did I care where they came from, but they did come; a phrase, a longing, an urge, something BURSTING to get out of my mind and on to paper...

     SO I rushed inside and wrote this single phrase:
"With every drag, my exhales hang heavy in the thick and humid air."

     ... and from there, the rest came to me just like it did when I was in my poetry class in college.  I just didn't know where or why this "flow" had come to me or where it was going, but sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you are going to go along for the ride; you are going to go on this journey and just see where it takes you.

I remember that that evening was one of the most creative and fruitful evenings I had had in a desert of a most un-creative year.  I am thankful that the universe, or whatever is out there, that sends the creative messages, thoughts and ideas to all of the artists in the world.  I'm thankful for that night, and I will always remember it fondly.

     I leave you all with the fruits of that evenings creative labors; an ode to one of the spaces in my world that I truly appreciate.  This poem is titled:


As I stand here on on this third-floor grated iron platform, like a solitary king,
in this narrow lidless red brick-lined cave,
I gaze out into the slivered view of streetlights, zooming flashes of colored speed
that race down the thin lined lanes below me.
My eyes move upward, scraping the clustered and cloistered compacted semi-tall pale pink buildings across the way,
and onward and upward to see the glistening bright sparkling white eyes of the Midnight Blue sky.

With every drag, my exhales hang heavy in the thick and humid air.
I'm still, yet also simultaneously moving fluidly to the music only I can hear.
My body becomes one with the melodic beeps, blurs and bleats of this happy tune.
Having my own little Twelve Hour Party for the small minute duration of a song
and pure-white wrapped fag-of-fire alight with the similar spark inside me.
In this slow glacier-ic moment, I undulate to the music of this night
until it is near the time to join all the stars far above me,
in that vast and vivid universe when I leave this cave,
this narrow red brick-lined sliver of exposed privacy,
from this happy body on this momentarily regal stairwell
to dream...   to dream...   to dream

     I do hope that you all take some time this weekend to find someplace in your own personal universes that speak to you, and deliberate there, and take some form of creative action (whatever you deem necessary) to express what this space means to you.

     I tell you what: Let's take an image, an illustration, a photograph of this very special place and put it out in the digital universe with #MyUniverse.  What fun!

     In the meantime, I will leave you with the curious tune I was listening and dancing to by myself that special evening.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.