July 2009

Dresses and Demons

After many months I finally fulfilled my birthday promise to make my sister a dress.  She picked the pattern and fabric.  It’s Simplicity 2703, made up in a gauzy pink striped cotton from Gorgeous Fabrics.  The pockets, facings, and front band are a dark brown cotton lawn from Sewfisticated.

I also found a home for my gray wool procrastination dress.  Its far too dressy for my lab but not for the office where my sister works. I took it in a little at the waist and it seems to fit her well:

(It seems I am also making some progress on my efforts to get her into sewing.  She confided that she spent most of the bus trip back to New York thinking about a high-waisted skirt she wants to make.)

On the Monkey front, I am working on the Visit to the Underworld.  (Although I’d love to illustrate the whole tale I thought I’d start with a few of my favorite scenes, that should work as stand-alone illustrations.)  Monkey is dozing after a big meal when two demons show and arrest him.  They drag him off to the palace of Yama, King of the Dead, where he wiggles out of his chains and demands to know why he’s been brought there.  When he is told that his time is up, he throws a fit.  ”I’ve learned Immortality!  I’m all done with that!”  He orders the Judges of the Dead to bring him the ledgers, with the records of when everyone is supposed to die, then takes a large brush and crosses out his name.  Then he crosses out the names of all the other monkeys, so they will live forever.

Here are some sketches of the denizens of the underworld, horse-faced demons, pig-faced demons, bull-headed demons, Judges, and lost souls:

And here are the Judges of the Dead, who spend most of the Monkey episode hanging back and watching in horror, then resolve between them to register a complaint with the Jade Emperor:

One of the most delightful facets of the book is the fact that Heaven and Hell are both bureaucracies.

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Visual Research

In one of my illustration classes, our instructor, Isabelle Dervaux, asked us to draw an Oscar award.  We took five minutes or so, and everyone came out with something lumpy and vaguely humanoid, possibly with its arms crossed, or holding a sword.  Usually on a stand.  Her point was that we all thought we knew what an Oscar looked like.  We would all have no trouble recognizing one in a photo.  But that sort of general knowledge wasn’t enough to draw a convincing image.

Most of my artistic training was to draw what was in front of me.  I learned to ignore what I thought a person, or an egg, or a tree, or a chair should look like, and instead to translate the lines, angles, and shades in front of me onto paper.  When I got interested in illustration, I ran up against the fact that the images in my head didn’t have that kind of detail.  How could I create the kinds of drawings I wanted without copying something that already existed?

The answer, Isabelle suggested, was do to visual research.  Find images of the thing you want to draw and learn their details by drawing them.  This accomplishes two things: it generates a number of sketches in your own style to work from, and it helps you learn their shapes so you can manipulate them later.

In this spirit, last week I looked up images of ancient chinese bronze artifacts, chinese dragons, and shaolin cudgel routines.  I sketched directly from the photographs, but worked quickly, keeping my images loose and trying to pull out the features I would use later.  In doing these drawings I learned that Chinese dragons have long spindly mustaches, and that kung-fu poses generally feature bent knees.  I imagine these tidbits will come in useful for the monkey illustrations.

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Back to the Drawing Board

David was away at a friend’s bachelor party last weekend so I did what I always do when he’s out of town: went to visit my sister in New York.  Here she is with Sam and Frederico, a.k.a, the Baron von Chomperstein, who was good enough to curl up and sleep on my feet, with only a wee bit of gnawing on the ankles in the morning.

To help pass the bus ride I brought along the book Monkey, which I picked up solely for the title at a used bookstore on Beacon Street.  Its a translation (and abridgment) of a 16th Century chinese novel, detailing the exploits of the Monkey King and his voyage to India with the pilgrim Tripitaka.  I’m only about half way through but am totally enamored of the book, from the foreword describing how the author loved “tales of monsters” as a child, was schooled to imitate classical (Tang dynasty) poetry as an adult, and only late in life got up the courage to publish his famous adventure tale anonymously, to the description of a Heaven where dragons go to the Jade Emperor for restraining orders, you can build a good credit rating in the Underworld, and Judges of Dead can be bribed with melons.  But the best part is Monkey, rascal supreme, who is born from a stone egg, learns immortality from a sage, then proceeds to make such a tremendous nuisance of himself that the Jade Emperor’s nephew, Lao Tzu, and Buddha have to be called in to deal with him.

As when I read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities a few years ago, I was seized with an urge to illustrate some of the scenes from the book.  (That was also, come to think of it, on a visit to my sister.  Seems that these visits are good for creative inspiration.)  The first question I had was what the Monkey King should look like.  I looked through images of the Monkey King on Google, from traditional illustrations to Jet Li, but ended up mostly using some of my sketches of the snow monkeys in Nagano, Japan.  Here are a few preliminary sketches:

Finally, here’s a more recent picture of one of the “adoptee” Canadian geese.  There’s only a little bit of down left on his nose to show that he’s a youngster.  (That and the fact that he says “peep” instead of “honk” when crowding around my bicycle hoping for a handout of lettuce.)  They grow up so fast!

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And now for something completely useless

Because its starting to look like we may not get a proper summer this year

And because I’ve now made enough lightweight things to keep me cool in the event of an actual sunny day

And because I really liked this new fall pattern from Simplicity

And because I might have bought a number of lovely gray and silver fabrics recently

And because the flies I spent the last three months making show no phenotype

….I took a day off yesterday and worked on this dress:

Its a silvery houndstooth-ish wool from Sewfisticated, both unseasonal and impractical.  Whatever.  Its done except for the back zipper and a lining.  Not sure quite how I’m going to line it because of the overlap in front.  Probably I’ll just make a kind of slip and sew it together at the shoulders and maybe at the zipper.

I have enough left for a jacket.  I think it will be another version of V8541, shorter and with wider sleeves.  Maybe with a standing collar or maybe with a fold-over collar.  Thoughts?  Opinions?

Speaking of which, does anyone know of a good reference for drafting collars?  I spent a while messing around yesterday with tracing paper and muslin trying to make a standing collar that actually stood straight on my neck.  I ended up with some wiggly thing that curved in at the back and front and out to go over the shoulders.  Is this weird?  Is there a simpler way to do it?  Does this mean my neckline pattern is bad?

Also, would it be wrong to underline this jacket in flannel?  In July????

Parting shot:

This is a family of geese that lives by the BU bridge.  There are both domesticated geese and Canada geese who live there but the people I’ve met who feed them say they’ve never interbred.  I’ve been watching this family for a while and you can see that both parents are the domesticated strain but half the gooselings have orange feet and half have black feet.  I stopped by the other day and they are starting to get their adult feathers….and ones with black feet are Canadas!  So it looks like maybe some Canada gooselings imprinted on domesticated parents.  So what type do you think these Canadas will try to mate with when they grow up?

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