Talking Postcards #3

You may be on to something.

Postcard 6-18 One of those crazy04

Mail art postcard, June 2018.


Black and Orange

Here are some recent sgraffito tiles. I try and I try but I never get photos of sgraffito tiles that do them justice. But I think you can get the idea of what they look like.

For info on the technique, look here. You’ll get the whole story on how to do this kind of work.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Eleven

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

Now you’ve seen the entire process of illustrating a literary competition as I experienced it. I think working with Laura Black and Fictive Dream was one of the most interesting, educational, and challenging art experiences I’ve had. Plus it was just a lot of fun.

I’m inspired to do more work like this – pen and ink drawings, I mean, and also more illustrating/real life sketching. I’ve got lots of sources – the whole world around me, for one thing, and my own writings, for another.

I want to thank Laura for her faith in my work. At all times she was unfailingly professional and supportive, she listened to my opinions, she respected my work, and I feel I have made a friend through this process.

I would also like to thank the authors for all of their kind comments. Suddenly, deep into the process, it occurred to me that not only did Laura’s opinion matter, but those of the authors – well, I had never thought about how it might feel to have your story illustrated, and what if I didn’t do it in a way they liked? Thankfully that did not happen.

My perspective on the illustrations was very ground-level: I thought about only each picture as I worked. I never considered the overall view. Here is what Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black said about the process from her perspective, and I think it’s very interesting and revealing:

In commissioning illustrations for September Slam my prime considerations were:

1. for the project to have an identity and for the Slam stories to be differentiated from the standard stories;
2. for the text, ‘September Slam 2018’ to be incorporated into the illustrations as part of the identity.

Your artwork, including the two images you created early on for social media, achieved all of this. The Slam has a clear identity and the intricate pen and ink style is just right. I think the text is incorporated superbly. It catches the eye but never dominates the image, which I like.

Once the project got started I soon learned that there were other considerations. Chiefly:

Choosing the right image for each particular story.

I didn’t have any knowledge of how you would work and as the project progressed I became increasingly grateful that you offered multiple options per story. That said, the choice wasn’t always easy for me. So often I could have gone either way, but this was the fun part without doubt… But when it comes to how I made the choices, for each story I pretty much followed this procedure: I uploaded all your options and I’d try each image on the story. One day I’d try one image, the next I’d try another. I’d re-read the text with the images in mind. Eventually, I’d make my choice. Sometimes I’d change my mind and start again. Primarily, I was trying to choose the image that best encapsulated the theme of a piece.
Variety in the artwork

By this I mean variety of scene and, for me, this was achieved very well. The restaurant scene was important in the two earlier images (social media) but for the actual stories I was keen to move away from this. Only two stories took place in the restaurant… Your idea that I send you the original unmarked story, as well as a marked copy was a good one.

In terms of the stories, I was very keen to find the best writing I could among the submissions and to offer readers a variety of genres. So there would only have been one war story, for example. It was also necessary that not all of the seven stories began with the prompt. The categories I worked to were: opening line, opening page, mid story, and end story. But good writing was the main criteria, which is why the first and last stories both begin with the prompt.

Overall effect of the artwork

By this I mean the overall look on the Home Page (thumbnails views in my case). Specifically, how would the colours sit alongside each other? Would there be a balance between peopled images and unpeopled images? And all the while I had to make sure I didn’t interfere in your creative process. It was an interesting exercise because when I search photographs for the standard stories, these considerations figure very little.

Colour: I find that in terms of colour there’s a harmony between the seven images. They sit alongside each other very well. Ideally, I should have placed one of the images from days 6,7 or 8 further towards that beginning because they are particularly strong in colour but the position of the prompt (and also gender of the writer) were uppermost in my mind.

People: stories are all about people and their relationships but I was so pleased we have two images without people. In fact, there’s wonderful range from the density of Helen McClory to the emptiness of Rachel Stevenson. The green coloured artwork for the unused ‘Ypres’ has a pair of boots to represent the soldier. I found this very moving.

In terms of tone I think the separate artworks form a unified whole. The overall appearance is balanced and there’s nothing that might be described as discordant.

This is the first time that I’ve commissioned artwork for Fictive Dream and I’m so pleased that I did. I think that having its own identity has made all the difference to the project. And I loved the collaboration.

I felt the same way. Thank you, Laura.




Argyle Sweater Lady

I drew this quick little sketch on a paint card. No reason, I was just drawing. I kept it and I show it to you because about 25 years ago I had very soft wool sweater, bright argyle pattern on a black background. I wonder if my memory was guiding me here. I remember that sweater fondly and if I had it today, I would wear it.

This lady is thinking in colors. See the thoughts above her head? Maybe she is considering what a nice sweater this one really is…?

Lady in argyle sweater 9-18 pen and ink paint card01

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Ten

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The final story I illustrated was Farewell to Europe, by Adam Kotlarczyk.

The scope of the possibilities for illustrating this story was overwhelming to me at first. First of all, Pyle was a real person with a known appearance. The larger events of the story were all true. The setting, wartime France, was a real time and place with its specific look. Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black had chosen one passage for illustration and I agreed with her. Choosing a second image was of course not necessary, but I was not quite satisfied with stopping at one – why, I don’t know, keeping with the pattern, or did I feel there was another slant to the story I could work with?

I decided to start off with the chosen passage and see how that went.

Drawing #1:

The passage Laura and I both chose involved the men watching this scene outside the restaurant window:

“As if on cue, a convoy rolled through the narrow road outside, rattling the dishes and the mirrors for a full ten minutes. In another life, the scene would have been absurd, us looking away and checking our watches. But absurdity had become our reality, and we accepted it and waited, with slight annoyance, for the long drab line of trucks and tanks to pass, like a motorist waiting at the tracks for a freight train.”

In order for me to depict this scene, I needed reference information. I had only a vague idea of what WWII trucks looked like, or how a convoy might be composed. I will say I have childhood memories of driving with my grandparents through rural Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois on various trips along two-lane highways; we’d often encounter convoys transporting soldiers from local bases and we’d weave in and out of the line as I waved out the back window. The memory, while pleasant, was not enough to draw a real war scene! I therefore spent some time poring over Google images photos of WWII in Europe to gain a good understanding of the vehicles, soldier uniforms, and so on.

Here’s the image I did to illustrate this passage:

Fictive Dream Farewell to Europe image 2 flattened 9-18 small

Drawing #2:

Now for the second image. I researched Pyle’s life in images and was stymied. Nothing epitomized the overall themes of the story. I was also not satisfied with taking another quote from the story, for the same reason, though there was plenty of visual information.

I came upon a photo of one of Pyle’s typewriters and then – inspiration hit. Here was my subject, the typewriter itself, symbolizing Pyle, journalism, writing, and war. But could I draw a typewriter?

Referring to the photo, I started to work on a sketch on white paper. Just for practice. But as I went on, I realized the sketch was turning into a drawing. I let myself finish it up with the idea that I could set it on a painted background as I had done with elements in other illustrations.

I chose a bold painted background. I had done it earlier and had it in inventory, but never thought I’d use it because it was such a loud presence on its own. For my purposes now, though, it was perfect.

Farewell to Europe Full size image 1 background 9-18 small

Next I had to deal with the typewriter. In the other illustrations with superimposed elements, I had just cut out the part I wanted and attached it to the actual background. This technique would not work here – when I cut out the typewriter, it looked too big. Hmmm. So I scanned it. This illustration would be different from all the others. It would not exist in real life.

First step was to separate the scanned typewriter from its background. I accomplished this using the tools in PhotoShop Elements 15, so that I had a free-floating typewriter.

Farewell to Europe typewriter small

I took the scanned background, typewriter, and text, layering them in PhotoShop Elements 15. Once they were in position, I was able to shrink the typewriter to the size I thought looked best and to position it and the text on the background. And then…I had my illustration.

So here is a great example of how the illustration process differs from creating an artwork for physical sale. And I was glad and relieved that I could do it this way, because I really was happy with that typewriter drawing and I am not sure a re-do would have had the same life to it.

Fictive Dream Farewell to Europe image 1 layers and text flattened 9-18 small

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

The final choice of image for Farewell To Europe was difficult to make because I liked both pieces of artwork very much. Among the Slam submissions there were several that were about the First or Second world wars – unsurprising given the prompt’s geography. I was keen to include one war story and when Adam Kotlarczyk’s story came in (towards the end, I think) I knew I’d choose his.

Your image of the army trucks passing by the restaurant window is a clear signal to readers that they’re about to embark on a war story. I love the movement in the image and details like the army helmets. That said, the story is also about writing and journalism. In fact, it gives a fictional encounter between a writer and the real life war correspondent Ernie Pyle. In addition, the typewriter symbolises what September Slam and Fictive Dream are about. This image really struck a chord with me. Of all your images, this is my favourite.

Just as with The Albatross artwork, the subject is presented in white and therefore is prominent. Interestingly, in The Albatross the white figure takes centre stage and the background recedes slightly. Here the image of the typewriter is strong but the colours on the right really do hold their own. And what beautiful colours. I don’t know if they’re pastels but that’s what they remind me of. What a way to end!


So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

Farewell to Europe, by Adam Kotlarczyk.