Some Clay Works this Spring

Here are most of the whosits and whatsits I made in my pottery class this past Spring. Some of them I like a lot, while others, not so much. But I think they have interesting qualities regardless of how they turned out.

The first piece I made this spring was a vase. It was meant to look as though it was wiggling around and then flail out a bit at the top. I wanted the top more open so that the flowers have room to breathe. It’s a deep black inside and a jade green outside.

The second piece was a jar with a lid. I liked the deep blue it ended up being with the bits of scattered white. It almost makes it look like the ocean, and the top like ripples.

This one is meant too look like water coming up around the figure. I thought it might look interesting with a plant growing all around it inside. I experimented with wax under the glaze on the side and got this strange speckled effect.

This is a triangular pot done with coils. It’s face looks completely tortured and contorted. It’s mean to go along with another vase that I made (it’s still on display so I haven’t taken pictures).

This was intended to go into a small animals cage, somewhere that a hamster or ferret would snuggled up with a matching bowl. It was mildly inspired by the Flintstones.

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These plates were made with two completely different techniques. The whitish one was done with coils and the green one was done on a wheel.

And those are all my miscellaneous pottery pieces from this year! My favorites will be up in another post.

Until next time!

damian alexander

Disposable Childhood – A Sculpture

Imagine a bedroom floor coated with the flesh of a couple dozen nude Barbie dolls, or the missing piece from the board game that’s coated in lint under the living room couch, the pieces that get lost and prevent you from completing your LEGO airplane, or the dollhouse furniture that broke when you shoved your brother into them, the doll head pulled from its body or the tiny green soldiers you experimented the melting process with.

That was the inspiration for this piece.

When given the assignment of a piece that needed to be bound together my instant though was that I would use toys. For anyone who knows me, I collect toys, even broken ones. I always figure they’ll come in handy later and well…they did!

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I grew up through the 90s and 00s and it was a good portion of the generation that got an explosion of media shoved in their faces. Somewhere in the 80s TV stations were created that specifically targeted children, dozens of commercials advertising toys were on and off, toy stores were stuffed to the brim with must-have toys. Kids got several movies in a year aimed just at them with marketing schemes and billboards, characters covering bedsheets and accompanying action figures, dolls, clothes. You bought a Happy Meal and then there was another toy when you were just trying to eat. Most kids don’t keep them around forever. It’s disposable. They’re all disposable.

With so many bits of media, so many toys and objects coated in hot pink and metallic blue, made each one worth a lot less than it might have years before. Even the poorest kids I knew had ten Barbies when they only needed 1, they had videogames coming and going like cheeseburgers and it just never ended. You walk into any thrift store and you’ll find a naked doll with the hand chewed off from a dog, a dollhouse coated in dirt from when it was left outside, action figures with the faces scuffed off from being abused, teddy bears with bursts and holes and a smell of mildew.

That’s what this piece is about. An ode to nostalgia and the waste of childhood, the forgotten bits and pieces that broke off when it met its end.

[when looking through the photographs below play this tune in a separate tab for added effect].

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Disposable Childhood will be on display at the Arno Maris gallery at Westfield State University on April 27th.

Until next time!

damian alexander

Sculpting a Face

As strange as this may sound, one of my favorite things to do within art is create a face. I feel like every artist has their thing. Some love drawing dogs over and over or working with flowers or extreme lines or bright colors. My thing is faces.

There’s just something I love about creating a human face. It’s just so indescribably exciting.

I find myself at any given time, staring at people and gathering in the idea of them. Their eyes, mouth and nose, lips, freckles, cheekbones, skin tone, the ears or neck or jawline. Every face is so fascinating. And while I don’t often use references in print (as in photos) for my work I do find myself referencing the people I’ve seen, from memory. Of course, these are generally exaggerated references and stylized artistically, which has become apparent throughout my work.

I find it so exciting when I first see this new person peaking though, when all those dabs of paint or scratched in lines start to come alive. It’s probably the most exciting thing about painting and why I have a hard time branching out into other subjects, like plants or scenery. I get so thrilled when I see the sparkle in their eye and they become real to me.

Sculpting a face garners a similar reaction. When I choose to sculpt a face instead of a flowerpot or cookie jar I find myself unable to stop working until they are completed. I will keep working and working until I see the nose and eyes poking through that wad of clay. The hours melt away. Next thing I know I’m looking at the clock and four hours have past and I look back at my hand and I’m holding a person I could only see in my head.

Below is a sculpture I worked on this Saturday. She is a character from a children’s book I’ve been working on. I guess it might be harder for others to see, because I can envision her in full color (she’ll be painted soon) and I can see her cuteness and spunk shining through and she feels almost real to me now, a way she hadn’t exactly felt before. I’ll be making more characters as soon as I can.

I’m not sure if other artists feel this way but it’s one of the things that ­keeps me creating. To an extent, it feels like another way of creating life.

I guess it is.

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Until next time!

damian alexander

How I Make a Puppet [Part I: Sculpting Kieren’s Head]

kieren

People often ask how exactly it is that I make my dolls…or as I call them, puppets, as I often use them for animation.

In this post I will go over brief steps of how I made my recent Kieren Walker puppet (a character from the BBC Three series In the Flesh). Learn more about the series here: [What is ‘In the Flesh’?]. Kieren Walker is played by actor Luke Newberry and so of course the doll is in his likeness. (fun fact! I chose to post this today on February 19th because it is in fact both of our birthday! I thought that was neat.).

These steps will be loose as they’re not really meant to follow along like a DIY but rather give some insight on how I do what I do.

We start with a sketch. This puppet was one of my easier ones because I had a subject to work from as it was a character from a pre-existing television program, rather than something entirely from scratch like I’ve done with previous puppets of mine. Luckily I had already done a few drawings of characters from the series beforehand to see what they would look like in my style.

Then I went and found a few images of the character from the series to work from like this one below.

In the Flesh ©2013-2014 BBC Three and Dominic Mitchell

Then I begin the puppet. I start with the head. The first step involves forming essentially a ball out of tin foil. I use baking clay for the head so foil is great because it can be cooked. The wad of foil also saves clay and gives you a basic structure to work around.

After I have the ball of tin foil mashed into the shape of the face and neck I begin to work on the clay. I take small pinches of the clay and begin to mold it onto the foil. I mush a good layer over the foil and then add up on top of that with more clay to form out the facial features, nose, brows, lips, eyelids. I was very drawn to sculpting this character because of how prominent the actors facial features are, high cheek bones, sharp nose, noticeable ears and furrowed brow. I sculpt the face back to the ears and then stop.

kierenwalker1
sculpey clay over foil (for the face)

 

Once that is created it is time to bake. For this amount of clay I gave it ten minutes in the oven at 275°F. After that is done I give it just a little bit to cool enough so that I wouldn’t burn my hands but not enough to get rock hard.

I then work from the back and sculpt in the hair, where I move to the front and sides to add in the front swoop and sideburns. I wanted the face to be hard enough that I wouldn’t mess it up while working on the hair, but soft enough that the clay would merge on the second bake. I then have what you see below.

Next step is the paint! …for those of you who don’t know, Kieren Walker is a zombie. Or as they call them in the series “Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers.” This means I didn’t have to add too much color as he’s very pale and washed out to begin with. I did however need to add eyes, brows, hair color, and shading.

It started with some light washes a cream tone on the face. Then I painted in the hair, brows and crevices with a nice light coffee brown.

After the paint of the face and hair had dried I worked in some white for the eyes. Kieren has two different colors shown on screen at times, one with his brown contact and one with his exposed zombie eye. The pupils and brown I drew in with pen after the white paint dried.

The end result of the head is below as well as the final head attached to his body and comparison.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey, and I’ll be sure to go over how I create the body and clothes eventually! Until next time check out a few clips from In the Flesh, which is one of my favorite television programs.

The series is centered on a zombie apocalypse, but is approached differently than most other zombie rising stories. It follows a recently risen zombie, Kieren Walker (a gay, 18-year-old who committed suicide) as he is rehabilitated into regular society where he experiences bigotry and isolation due to his zombie status. As more and more zombies begin to be rehabilitate we meet an interesting array of characters, both living and dead. The series involves many social issues, from mass panic, to suicide, depression, PTSD, gay relationships and family issues. It is definitely worth checking out.

I’ll leave you with two of my favorite scenes:

You can purchase the first and second seasons on amazon.com

Tell me what you think of my puppet and In the Flesh below!

Until next time!

damian alexander

Keep a Sketchbook; a Guide to Fighting Artist’s Block

You know what they say, a sketch a day…keeps the art block at bay. Okay, that somebody was me. Well, maybe somebody else has said it at some point but I’ve never met them.

But let’s get this train back on track. I can not stress how important it is as an artist to sketch, draw, doodle, scribble…every day that you can. It is imperative as an artist that you do this. Make it a rule, AT LEAST once a day you will be creative. At least once a day you will make something. No matter how small or ugly or pointless.

Sketchbook (2014)
Sketchbook (2014)

My suggestion is that you carry a sketchbook with you, big or small, wherever you go. I found it the best way to keep creating and to keep my scribbles together, rather than in the corners of my math assignments or creative writing notebook. As a kid I remember getting called out by teachers for all the scribbles on assignments, some of which would actually give me compliments over reprimands.

I do also collect my notebook doodles that unexpectedly spilled from my finger tips. I advise you do the same, at least the ones you like. Otherwise you might lose track of them.

Sketchbook (2014)
Sketchbook (2014)

Art is a habit and if you want to be good at it you have to form that habit. Jump right into it, force it on yourself. Carry art with you. Every where I go I carry my sketchbook. It is in my backpack or my satchel and I bring it just in case I might feel the need to use it. Art strikes at anytime and when it strikes just roll with it.

Sketchbook (2014)
Sketchbook (2014)

At least that’s how it is for me. Sometimes my best work has come out of those creative urges. At times I’ll feel it jittering through my veins, making my hands shake and I’m desperate for paint, for clay or pens. Of course I can’t carry all of these with me, but I can carry some. And I do, and so should you.

Jot down notes, doodle eyes, slap paint on the page, just get any of your creative urges out.

Sketchbook (2014)
Sketchbook (2014)

Personally, I, as well as many others I know use art as a stress reliever. If you can’t stop thinking about something scribble it over and over until it’s tired out. If you have a test to prepare for and can’t get into it try too doodle for a half hour until you feel up for it. It starts with a little and sometimes turns into a lot. Sometimes the most beautiful things can come from being anxious or nervous or scared.

Draw your dreams, your nightmares, what scares you or makes you smile. Draw them over and over and get them out. Draw and doodle what only you see in your head and let others see it. Do it over and over and a lot. Sometimes I’ll just draw my own face over and over. I’ll look at it in photos or a mirror or just my own memory.

Sketchbook (2014)
Sketchbook (2014)

Draw your friends and the people you see. When you’re sitting on a bench and see someone who is breathtakingly beautiful, try and capture them (but don’t stare too much, and remember not to let your jaw hang). Find the strange and interesting people all around you and put them down for later.

That’s the fun thing about sketching is that it’s all endless. Doodle it now, scribble it now, slap color and lines here and there and if you like it enough go back and fully realize it.

Sketchbook (2014)
Sketchbook (2014)

I can not stress it enough. If you want to be an artist or you are one you need to keep those creative juices flowing. Stop telling yourself that you aren’t good enough or people are better than you. Stop telling yourself things and start doing things. Make yourself better, prove yourself wrong. Art isn’t a magic thing given from the heavens to just a few, it’s a thing that takes time and dedication. If you have it than put it to work.

Do you try to create everyday? Or carry a sketchbook around?… did I make you want to?

Until next time!

The Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo (2014)

Back in October I had a friend who lives in North Carolina queue me in on a comic expo I had never heard of before that just happened to be around Boston… Cambridge to be exact. Of course, I go to school in Western Massachusetts so it was not exactly within my access at the moment.

Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo (2014)

 

 

I read a bit about it and then my finger slipped and I somehow accidentally booked a bus ticket for that weekend home. This was mostly after seeing that Emily Carroll would be there. She’s a fairly known online comic artist who had done artwork for the story and exploration computer game Gone Home (2013), as well as her recent graphic novel Through the Woods (2014). Find more about her on emcarroll.com

There were many great cartoonists and comic artists there like:

As well as an amazingly huge array of other artists you can check out more of them here.

I love these sorts of things because I get to meet all sorts of artists I had never heard of, each with a table filled with their artwork, prints, originals, t-shirts, comics, and so forth. Several of which had been special guest artists who designed covers for such comics as Adventure Time, Regular Show and so on.

It was all just so inspiring. But I had a goal. To meet Emily Carroll, buy her graphic novel, say several words to her without drooling or passing out, and then getting her to sign it.

All of which I achieved!

through the woods (2014)

Signature and drawing from Emily Carroll!

At the end of the day I had amassed nearly every artists business card or anything else they were handing out, since I didn’t have enough money to buy literally everything I saw…because that is what I wanted to do.

Either way, it was pretty awesome and amazing. I’m hoping to go next year…I’ll probably definitely go…but what I’m really hoping is to have my own table next year. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Until next time!

(Also this was sitting next to me through most of the speeches. I’m not saying I would have stolen him…but I did consider it).

MICE

When Marnie Was There & Depression in Animation

The latest from the Japanese animation team at Studio Ghibli is an adaptation of the Joan G. Robinson children’s novel When Marnie Was There. Hayao Miyazaki, one of the main founders and acclaimed director at Studio Ghibli had listed the novel among his Top 50 Recommended Children’s Books so it wasn’t surprising to see this film in the works.

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

When Marnie Was There or Omoide No Marnie (as it is called in Japan) was released in Japanese cinemas July 2014. It will be released Summer 2015 in U.S. cinemas by the New York based foreign animation distributor GKids. GKids has been responsible for distribution of many amazing foreign animated films, from the French film Ernest & Celestine (2012), the Irish film Song of the Sea (2014) and many of the prior Studio Ghibli films including From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) and the Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) [which hits U.S. shelves this month on DVD and BluRay].

When Marnie Was There is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, known for directing the previous ghibli film The Secret World of Arrietty (2010). Marnie is centered on a 12-year-old girl by the name of Anna Sasaki. She is a foster kid who spends much of her time alone, until she moves to the countryside and meets a mysterious girl named Marnie who lives in the old house on the marsh.

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

While I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing When Marnie Was There for myself, I have read the novel, watched the Japanese trailer over thirty times and listened to the magnificent soundtrack from Priscilla Ahn and score by Takatsugu Muramatsu on repeat for days on end. When Marnie Was There tells a story from the perspective of a child in great depth and detail, much like Ghibli’s prior films, however, this time it deals with a more poignant look at isolation and depression.

With one listen of the title theme Fine On the Outside, written and sung by Priscilla Ahn, it is clear what the main character, Anna, is feeling. “I never had that many friends growing up, so I learned to be…okay with just me, just me, just me. And I’ll be fine on the outside.” The song continues on with a sense of loneliness and isolation. “Would you cry if I died, would you remember my face.” You can give it a listen for yourself right here. More interesting is that the song was not simply written for the film, but submitted for consideration. It was actually written by the artist when she was in high school, based upon her own experiences.

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

The soundtrack features additional similar tracks by Ahn, such as I Am Not Alone, Deep Inside My Heart and You’re a Star.

The film even presents lines straight from the character of Anna, such as the one where she is seen sitting on a bench sketching as other girls play in the distance. “There is a magical circle in this world that no one can see. Those girls are in the circle, and then there’s me, on the outside. But I don’t care about any of that. I hate myself.”

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

I found it so intriguing to have a character be presented so clearly as being depressed in an animated film. Though this isn’t uncommon in Japanese animation. We see similar feelings and expressions in many films, such as Colorful (2010) or Neon Genesis Evangelion. Another example is the Australian stop-motion animated film Mary & Max (2009), which even shows concepts of suicide. What makes Marnie different is the fact that its target audience is primarily children, though animation in countries outside of the U.S. are not often shoved into confining categories as being “for kids,” like they are in the U.S.

However, there was quite a hubub with the recent Walt Disney Animation Studios film Frozen (2013) and how people believed it accurately portrayed concepts of depression, anxiety and PTSD. Many who suffer from depression found the character of Elsa highly relatable. It may have been a huge part of why she has become so popular with the teenaged audience. With quotes from her featured song like, “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show,” it’s hard not to view it as an allegory. [Elsa’s depression and anxiety was later officially confirmed by one of the films directors on twitter].

Frozen (2013) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios
Frozen (2013) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

What is also interesting (but essentially expected) is the fact that while Frozen was an extreme box office success for Walt Disney Animation Studios, When Marnie Was There was pretty much the opposite for Studio Ghibli. The quaint and quiet nature of the film had a hard time competing with the intense, dramatic, musical, CGI, box office champion when it premiered in Japanese cinemas so close to its release.

This is also suggested to have been a reason behind the closure of the animation department at Studio Ghibli. No more films will be releasing for quite some time and the studio will focus solely on its distribution rights, products and museum.

I made sure to snatch a few When Marnie Was There items (actually I asked my friends mom if she could pick them up while she was visiting Japan). They’re quite lovely.

What do you think of When Marnie Was There and depression in animation? Does the film look interesting to you? Do you think it’s okay to show children these concepts? I’ll leave you with that, and my own sketchbook doodle of Anna and Marnie below!

Until next time!

illustration by Damian Alexander (2014)
illustration by Damian Alexander (2014)

 

25th Children’s Illustration Exhibit with Marc Brown & Mo Willems!

In November I had the pleasure of being invited by a friend to the Children’s Illustration Exhibit at the R. Michelson Gallery in Northampton, MA, which ran from November 9, 2015- January 15, 2015.

First things first, I had no idea that anything actually interesting happened anywhere near where I go to school. Secondly, I didn’t realize so many amazing authors and illustrators lived in Massachusetts. The gallery featured walls and walls of amazing work and was accompanied by many of the books whose illustrations were featured being on sale by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

I had the pleasure of seeing tons of artwork from Dr. Seuss to Maurice Sendak and meeting many authors and illustrators of whom I adore. There was Tony DiTerlizzi (author and illustrator of The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Search for WondLa series).

Then there was Mo Willems (creator of the popular book series’ Knuffle Bunny and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus). I actually knew Mo Willems from his prior work in cartoons while I was growing up. Shows like Sheep in the Big City (2000-2002), The Off-Beats (1996-1998) as well as work on Codename Kids Next Door (2002-2008). He seemed pleasantly surprised that anyone was actually bringing up any of these cartoons, which I personally was surprised by because the minute I heard his name I instantly thought of all these shows. I suppose that comes with all the childhood nostalgia. We had a nice chat about them. I thought to myself how interesting it must be to meet the audience for the show you had created long ago as adults now. 6-year-olds don’t have much of an outgoing voice, but here I am at 22 and I still remember them all like it was yesterday.

I got a copy of his book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, which he signed for me. Though I wish I had one of the DVD sets of the Off-Beats or Sheep in the Big City onhand (not that they were ever released). Excuse how strange my face looks, I was way too excited and there was a ceiling light right above my head.

After that I met none other than Marc Brown! If you don’t know Marc Brown, he’s the creator of one of the longest running children’s series, Arthur. Arthur was a huge part of my growing up.

Arthur coated school walls, libraries and the PBS kids segment. I was just a little excited to run into him. He was also incredibly nice, not that I expected any less. I bought an Arthur book, Arthur Writes a Story, for him to sign and…well there was a tiny miscommunication when I told him “Damian with a double-a” because he wrote “to Daamian.” I told him it was fine but he said he had to make up for it and signed the other side, doodling a picture of Arthur for me. It was pretty great, plus I made out with my own original Arthur drawing.

I had this small urgency to let him in on the long going Arthur meme online but decided not to…it would be way too hard to explain how fairly innocent screencaps of a children’s television program can be so outrageously humorous for little to no reason. I guess that’s…just what happens when your preschool audience is almost entirely in their mid-twenties now, huh?

Anyway, it was quite exhilarating and fulfilling to meet such creative people, especially so many that had such an effect on my growing up.

If I’m around I’m hoping I can go again come next year! Maybe I’ll get a chance to meet a few of the other authors and illustrators I missed out on.

DW

The Wonderful World of Stop-Motion

Stop-motion will remain one of the most beautiful methods of story telling. I think what makes it stand out so much is the fact that these characters we see on the screen, exist. Though every character we see exists you have to stop and think, when the film is live action and the actor steps off the set they’re no longer that character. They’re that actor again, plain and simple. And with 2D and CG animation the character doesn’t go beyond being more than just a picture or a rendering inside the computer. But with stop-motion, you see, they exist. The character is there just about forever. They existed and do exist and their whole world somehow exists. It’s just truly remarkable.

The images featured above are owned by Disney, Laika, 20th Century Fox etc.