Monday, March 30, 2009

J: Jesus by William DeMarco Mayo

Growing up in a Catholic home, my parents provided several religious images of Jesus, Mary, and other iconic Saints and Angels as part of our home decoration. On reflection, our visual input of God was through Jesus. We didn’t have any paintings, statues, or other representations of God the Father although we did have representations of God as the Holy Spirit as both dove and flame. I think that my visual reference for God has to be Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. We had lots of art books in our house. Back to Jesus—this is about the letter J after all.

The image of Jesus that comes to mind for many people of my generation is the Head of Christ by Warner Sallman (1892-1968). Our family’s exception was that we had an original interpretation of this painting. My uncle Marc--William DeMarco Mayo—painted his version as a wedding gift to my parents. This image is my image of the Jesus of my youth. As an adult painter, I love how personal this interpretation has become for me. It is so much better than the “canned” Sallman version.

I am a product of 16 years of Catholic education. The first time I attended a “public” school was as a man of 39 seeking his master’s degree. So these icons were formative. What I like most about my Uncle’s version of the painting is that it defines my youthful understanding of Jesus. It is much like a treasured, worn photo in the old family album. It isn’t my Jesus today, but I love the feeling that it gives me of a time when I was innocent and accepting. As a piece of art it captures that feeling because the style is loose and warm.

Jesus is represented in many ways in paintings which help to put a face to the faceless deity. I will leave the sermons to my most articulate friend Dwayne Eutsey (shout out) but the Catholic upbringing of the 1960’s held a very confusing message. It was full of fear and rules (and nuns) that carried over from my parent’s upbringing, but the loving and forgiving Jesus was working hard to make inroads. It is valuable to understand that my mother thought of becoming a nun until she met my father. She would have been one of the nuns that we liked—of course the “we” would be without me for obvious reasons.

The “white” Jesus was prevalent, but we were also introduced to the idea of a Jesus of color. I think the representation of Rembrant’s Jesus at least had a flavor of compassion and kindness with some racial ambiguity. I like that version. Salvador Dali’s Crucifixion was an image that I remember from college and who can ignore the Pieta by Michelangelo.

Let me return to Uncle Marc for a moment. In one of those recent list exercises on Facebook, I said that I hope that one day a distant relative will discover a piece of art that I created and be inspired to create something themselves. Uncle Marc was an inspiration to me. He was cool. He was a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and had great skill as a painter. He made his living as an industrial artist for Aircraft Armament Industries (AAI). He was not an engineer, but, through the logic of understanding form, he created artistic renderings that engineers would make functional. He was a problem solver. But most importantly, he was cool. I love the image of his home studio—and—he was cool.

DeMarco Mayo got the chance to see if his image of Jesus did the God justice in 2004. His painting inspires me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I: Illustrators

I woke up at about 5:00 am this morning to the cat picking the lock to our bedroom door. She managed to break in sending my wife jumping out of bed and beginning my day a little early. Fully alert from the attack, I considered the next entry into the blog—illustrators. I think that I will attack this entry chronologically.

Whenever I am asked to speak about graphics, illustration, or communication, I start at the same place—the caveman. You would have to have lived under a rock to not encounter some image of a cave painting. As a form of communication, illustration precedes written word. These images were the mainstay of storytelling and hold incredible value as simplistic representations of concepts as well as events.

Moving on in history, the very graphic illustrations of the Egyptians and the illuminated Bibles created by Monks and then the early printing process showed the importance and impact of marrying text and image.

Two of my early influences as illustrators were Winslow Homer and NC Wyeth. Winslow Homer worked as an illustrator during the Civil War, creating images of Union Soldiers for Harper’s Weekly. NC Wyeth’s illustrations of Treasure Island and other classics provided the images that I grew up relating to the Great Books.

Moving on, the next would appear to be Norman Rockwell. His idealized images told very complete and complicated stories that not only reflected his idea of American life, but actually became the standard for that generation’s ideal slice-of-life. In Abstract and Concrete, he paints a business man observing a Pollack-like painting in a gallery. What skill it shows that he can incorporate effectively another, dissimilar artist’s style into his own. “The illustrator's rendering of Abstract & Concrete must have been indicative of what Rockwell, then 68, was pondering at the time. How will I be remembered. As a technician or artist. As a humorist or a visionary." (Rockwell web page)

I grew up with 33RPM LPs as my generations primary music source. Like many of my peers, I wanted to design and illustrate album covers. The size and scale of that medium was just so perfect for artwork. Today’s CD covers are so small, limiting the impact of the images. I particularly liked the hand lettering and illustration as well as the effects used on photos from the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. I’ll come back to that later.

I’ve included several examples of these covers that demonstrate how detailed and imaginative they were. Peter Max and Andy Warhol created great illustrations in this timeframe. Some of the skill and craftsmanship that was demanded in those days is lost on today’s artists. The computer simplifies the production of images, allowing you to “Control Z” undo. The album artists had to make it perfect by hand. Corrections and revisions were costly and difficult. Ah the good old days of amberlith and typesetting.
As for text, often these covers included hand lettering that was an art in itself.

As I grew older, more sophisticated illustrators crept into my realm of awareness. Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame created incredible still and animated images using airbrush and photo manipulation. I became a big fan of Marshall Arisman and his fanciful style. I also enjoy the work of Gary Baseman and Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studios. I have had a chance to meet Arisman, Baseman, and Sickels at the HOW Design conference to chat first-hand about their process.

This list goes on and on. One of my great pleasures is to go to sites like and other illustrator sites to prowl for hours among the illustrators. I am confounded though by the impression that some critics present that illustration is somehow a lesser art than “fine-art.” When you look at the paintings and drawings of the mentioned artists, you see a level of skill and technique equal to anyone who only works from their own perspective.

In the book “Education of an Illustrator” written by Steven Heller and Marshall Arisman, they talk about the illustrator telling a second story and expanding on the written work with the artist’s imagination. One artist viewed my “fine art” attempts and commented that it had an illustrative style. I’m not sure if she intended that as a compliment, but I take it as one. When Andrew Wyeth passed away recently, several people commented in a negative sense that his work will be viewed as illustration and not fine art. Yet, when I entered the Modern Art room at the Museum of Modern Art, “Christine’s World” is prominently the first painting you see. This piece of art is often criticized for its popularity as a poster, yet I find it to be a masterful execution of composition, light, and content. The story is compelling and the tone is perfectly matched. If being an illustrator is bad, I choose to be the worst.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

H: Friedensreich Hundertwasser

As I contemplated this letter and how I would use it, I tossed around a couple of ideas. One thought was hair and hands. Both provide a wide range of inspiration and opportunity for observation and rendering.

After further reflection, I thought I would once again venture out into cyber space and try to find an artist that I was either vaguely familiar with or not at all. Enter Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I know that I have had encounters with his art, but I don't clearly remember studying him.

According to, "Friedensreich Hundertwasser (December 15 1928 – February 19 2000) was an Austrian painter and architect. By the end of the 20th century, he was arguably the best-known living artist in Austria, though he was always controversial." He was born Friedrich Stowasser. Ok, so this guy changed his name to something way more complicated? Apparently, his mother's entire family was killed in the Holocaust. "His adopted surname is based on the translation of 'Sto' (the Czech word for hundred)into German. The name 'Friedensreich' has a double meaning as 'Peaceland' or 'Peacerich' (in the sense of 'peaceful')."

Much of his work deals with the environment and activism. He creates art wherever he goes in painting, drawing, architecture, and sculpture. He has an incredible website, Hundertwasser, where his environmental posters are particularly inspiring. He is not what I usually follow, but My Visual Vocabulary is not about staying where I am, It should be about expanding more than my waist line.

In his notes about himself Hundertwasser says, "The work of the artist is very difficult, because it cannot be done by force, diligence or intelligence.
I think that by strength and diligence and intelligence one can do anything else in life, but the rewards of art are totally unattainable by these means."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

G: Milton Glaser

By far the easiest letter to populate for me—G is for Glaser. Milton Glaser is the single most influential artist in my design/illustration life. I was fortunate enough to sit in an audience while he spoke about design, ideas, and creativity at one of the many HOW Design conferences that I have attended. Through the power of the internet, I have found several amazing video clips where he discusses his process and thinking. One of the best
Of these videos was Milton Glaser: How great design makes ideas new on TED
His site,, is a very simple-to-use website full of fabulous imagery, writing, and thought.

Most people are familiar with his I (Heart) NY graphic. His identity work also includes the graphic for Barrons, Grand Union Superstores, and the Brooklyn Brewery to name just a few that I really like. In his talk at HOW, he described the incredible and exciting challenge of rebranding an entire grocery chain from the identity, to environment, to product labeling.

He does it all. His illustrations are meaningful and finely crafted. I’m not sure what else to say about his work other than to display some of it here and encourage anyone reading this to visit his site for more beautiful work by this living legend of design and illustration.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

F: The Fifer by Eduoard Manet

I recently became the recipient of an incredible library of art books that were in the library of Mrs. Gladys Zutz, a fabulous lady and artist. I was browsing through a book on Eduoard Manet and came across The Fifer, a portrait of a young boy in the Light Infantry Guard. This painting is amazing. The absent background; the dark red and black clothing; and the gold and white accents draw you into the youthful face.

The subject of the painting apparently created some controversy. According to a Princeton-based blog on the image, "On first glance, Fifer (1866) is simply a painting of an innocent young boy. In reality, however, it is one of Manet’s oddest “portraits” of Victorine Meurent: she was one of several models who sat for the painting. As a result, her eyes seem to peer strangely from another’s face. The fifer’s intense but abstracted gaze and light, half-formed eyebrows seem lifted directly from The Street Singer, and the hand that blocks Victorine’s mouth in that painting is echoed here by the fife before the boy’s lips (Armstrong 161)" (

In the book Manet: 1832-1883 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1983)" The young model was a boy trooper in the Imperial Guard at the Pepiniere barracks..." The author goes on to say that it was suggested that the model was Victorine Meurent and there was a resemblance, however nothing beyond the eyes resembled the woman. The Princeton website uses this resemblance to show a significance in neutralizing her sexuality. The Met book indicates that the "identification matters little." To me this discussion doesn't matter at all.
What matters to me is the impact of the image. The flatting of the painting, simplifying the shapes and their relationships while maintaining perfect balance and contrast is what makes and impact on me. The shining metal is in stark contrast to the sash and the drape and texture of the uniform. The uniform is simple and clean and defines the figure. The ornate hat, the row of buttons, the line of the fife, and the curve of the sash and stripes all draw you almost forcefully into the eyes. Interestingly, the uniform is a "dress-down" or fatigue uniform of the day (think about the camoflaged uniform you see today). The grey background allows all of the color to snap forward.

The Met book presents the subject as "a familiar and commonplace figure assigned a new significance." This sparks thoughts about the nature and significance of the subjects of works of art. I often get stuck trying to say something with my paintings and art, rather than just painting or drawing. Perhaps my next painting will be something simple. I can try to focus on simple shapes, colors, and light. As an intellectual persuit, less is more is amazingly difficult.

In the end, I like this picture. It speaks to me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

E: Thomas Eakins--American Master Realist

In order to make My Visual Vocabulary fun, I did a random search of Artists beginning with the letter E. I continue to work on the premise that I will follow the alphabet for a while, finding inspiration in that order. Who did I land on? None other than Thomas Eakins. Way back in my “art in the dark” classes, I came across the incredibly raw and vibrant works of Thomas Eakins. I put him in the back of my mind, often pulling his 1875 work The Gross Clinic out when thinking about light and impact.

According to’s American Masters “When Thomas Eakins died in 1916, he left behind a body of work unprecedented in American art for its depth, strength, perception, character, and commitment to realism. Yet during his life, Eakins sold less than thirty paintings. Rejected by the public and the art establishment of his day, it was only after his death that a new generation of scholars and critics recognized Eakins as one of America's greatest painters.”

The site quotes Walt Whitman, "I never knew of but one artist, and this is Tom Eakins, who could resist the temptation to see what they think ought to be rather than what is."

It is this quote that interests me and echoes a concept I encounter in many forums on observation. One of the greatest obstacles to creating realistic drawings and paintings is that the mind will interpret the “ness” of something, that is, what we believe something looks like in our mind, not necessarily what we actually see. Our mind tells us a table has four legs, so we draw that instead of what we see, which might only include three of the four legs. Using measuring tools and other techniques, we can isolate the parts and avoid rendering “table ness”—rather depicting the lines, shapes and shadows that we actually see.

The Philadelphia artist Eakins was a realist and a perfectionist. His compositions were carefully thought out and mechanically precise. As I recall, he thought that the painting should precisely convey the time, season, and environment of the setting. In his painting The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), Eakins portrays his friend Max in a single rowing scull on an October day on the Schuylkill River in the afternoon. Eakins puts himself in the scull behind Schmitt.

The image tells a precise story and pinpoints so many things about that moment in time. It is a story so rich that “A poem titled The Mystery of Max Schmitt, written by Phillip Dacey in 2000, is based on the painting and is spoken from Schmitt’s point of view. It contemplates the changes the popular sport was about to undergo.” (Mental Floss, Feel Art Again: The Champion of Single Sculls, A. Fernandez)

If I remember correctly, Eakins was one of the first to use photography to study motion.

This little adventure in random research has revived an interest in Eakins. I will have to browse the many images of his “unprecedented” body of work for more entries into My Visual Vocabulary.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

D: Daughters

A major inspiration for the past 24 years has been the two people that my wife and I created. Erin turned 22 this past week and Alexis blogged about how she feels about her in . Very touching.

I don't get to see them as much now as before since Erin is a senior in college across the state and Alexis lives on the other side of the Eastern Shore. This week was different and I had some quality time with both. Alexis helped us move some furniture and watched the critters while we traveled 5 hours to watch Erin play in the goal for her college women's lacrosse team. Both of my girls have had great sports careers in high school and college, which has been a source of great pride and lots of fun for my wife and me.
These two people are very different and have strong and independent personalities. They are both have incredible senses of humor and always have stories and things going on in there lives. They are very creative in different ways and provide endless entertainment and meaning to my life.

They both believe that our dog precedes them in my favor. It is a long standing joke and Alexis will say that this proves that I can't mention one without the other. Not true.

We have a collage in our family room full of pictures from their youth. It has been amazing to watch them grow and develop, and hopefully I didn't screw them up too much. They seem to be pretty well adjusted and they are definitely good people who care about their world, their family, and their friends. I continue to look forward to seeing what will happen next with them.

I attempted to draw a picture of Alexis when she was a baby, but it was critically reviewed and I haven't tried again since. Perhaps one day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

C: Cartoons

One of my favorite cartoons (left) from the TeamSTEPPS Program, Shared Mental Model

If you visit my website,, you will see a very eclectic collection of drawings, designs, and artwork. One of my favorite genres is cartooning. As a child of the 60s, I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons and the worlds of people like Chuck Jones, creator of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and (my personal favorite) Pepe Le Pue. Who couldn't love that bounding little furry French ambassador of zee love. Except, of course, the cat with the stripe painted down her back.

Another icon of the time, which captured my pencil and imagination, was MAD Magazine. I copied the styles of Jack Davis and studied with great passion the creations of Al Jaffee and others in the cast of usual idiots. Alfred E. Neuman was a chameleon, matching the hottest movie and political icons of the day. This magazine was about as naughty as a 12-15 year old could get his hands on. Fortunately my older brother shared this interest, so the supply was available.
I remember getting in trouble for injecting a little "MAD" quality into a illustration of one of my brother's English reports. The teacher was a savvy publisher in her day and detected the minute activity happening in the back of a Spanish galleon with eagle eyes. She must have used a microscope. The paper was returned with the minuscule naughty activity circled in bright red.

Through college, I continued to create cartoons and caricatures. When I was in Officer Training School, I occupied the down-time while awaiting for the end of Saturday inspection with a cartoon of the week. Everyone enjoyed the posting until one cartoon bounded over the line. I was called on the carpet by a captain who, restraining an obvious appreciation for the subject, told me that I should probably move on to another subject. When an officer would come into the classroom, rather than upsetting the chairs and creating kaos, the class would come to attention in their seats to the command " in seats--attention." The cartoon was set in the stalls of the latrine, where boots and dropped drawers were visible below the stall doors. The motion of clicking boots accompanied the same command. Come on, that's funny.

These days, the cartoon that I most closely follow is Dilbert. I insist that someone in my world is feeding the artist, Scott Adams, daily reports. It draws its humor from touching on the exposed nerves of today's cubical dwellers. Once a week, posts the week's political cartoons and I feast my eyes on the last bastion of true free speech. The modern-day bearers of the banner of Thomas Nast still peel away the smoke and mirrors of the political beasts to expose their naked, poached, and bloated underbellies. The source of inspiration seems endless.

Monday, March 9, 2009

B: Buildings

I love looking at buildings. I enjoy drawing them and painting them as well. I think that the combination of design and function is what inspires me most. Buildings are living sculpture, changing every minute with the weather and the light. Each structure draws its life from within and from its relationship to its surroundings.

Artist Andrew Wyeth has been one of my greatest inspirations for my entire life. The buildings of Maine and the Brandywine Valley of Delaware and Pennsylvania were often key elements in his work. He used a very simple and subtle color scheme and relied on the shapes and play of light and shadow to define the image. In the "Widow's Walk," he paints the windows and details so cleanly and simply. The shadows do all of the work, providing definition and temperature.

When I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there were several popular artists in the area. One of them, John Moll, is someone who I attempted to emmulate and still do today. I had an opportunity to observe him working once and set out immediately to try to copy his process. I have long-since moved forward from that point, but I often hear comparison when I draw a house portrait. I enjoy the challenge of leaving out the right lines and capturing the texture of brick, stone, or wood.

When I travel, I try to take pictures of buildings to gather images of the structures and details. Modern homes are often lacking in the details and dressing of older buildings. These older buildings really put the face on a town or city. I enjoy looking up to see the tell-tale structures that give clues to the history of a building or street front.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A: Artist Magazine

I enjoy reading Artist Magazine among other design and art magazines and books. I've also started searching art lessons on YouTube which has had some interesting results. In the April 2009 issue I was particularly inspired by the Master Class article by Jerry Weiss.

Clear Eyed Romantic dealt with Richard Parkes Bonington, "A consummate draftsman...[who] painted the essence of a vanishing Venice in watercolor." (Artist, April 2009) The featured illustration Equestrian statue of Colleoni by Verrocchio in Venice caught my eye. I had the loose qualities that I remember from Honore Daumier (i.e. Don Quixote at right) and Windslow Homer (i.e. watercolor below), artists that I studied back in painting and drawing classes in college 25 years ago. The pallet was limited and draftsmanship lively and simple.

As it turns out, Mr. Bonington was a "candle in the wind." According to the author, he "was a proficient watercolorist by age 16. When he died at 26, he left a body of work that established him as one of the great painters of the Romantic era."

It was a great gem that triggered some memories and sent me searching the internet for images.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I Need to Think this Through

This is my first attempt at this. Although I have a professional portfolio and a personal website ( This is a new forum for me. So I need to think it through.

I think this blog will deal mostly with managing my "visual vocabulary." Since the shorter version was already taken, this means something to someone else. For me, this has been a term that I use for anything that I encounter--artwork, music, people, settings, places, or ANYTHING--that I draw on (no pun intended) to create my artwork.

Since I am a solo-designer in an in-house setup and I have mostly virtual contact with my artist friends, I have to do a great deal of leg work to do on my own to build my visual vocabulary.

So, I'll think this through a little more before truely getting started. I started today so that I could post to my daughter's blog Seriously! ( Enough for now.