Monday, December 6, 2010

We Could Name Heroes

The other day, I posed the following question to a group of senior students: What is your tribe?

Response: puzzlement.

I was not asking for affiliations by blood. Nor did I seek the name of a cult.

I went on to explain thusly: in about six months, you will no longer be surrounded by people who are exactly your age, who hail from your social class, who are interested in all the same things you are. There will no longer be a group of professional experts who are paid to be interested in you. You will be on your own, and you will have to construct meaning from your own resources until you find or construct another community.
How will you sustain yourself? I asked. Where will you find nourishment?

If you aspire to be a producer of culture, you must also be a passionate participant in it. But culture is a big word. We plug into it selectively, in accordance with our own predilections. In the age of the interwebs, you can find digital encampments of many varieties. At the heart of my question, however, lives something deeper. I am really asking: To whom will you turn? This is not the same as With whom will you chat? Whose tweets will you follow?

Typically, the people to whom I turn are dead. Meaning: museums and libraries are sources of nourishment, too. And you can belong to a tradition, an approach, a certain variety of impatience, and be sustained by it.

I think about influences quite a bit. There are many people I admire. Many came up in my last post: Milt Caniff, DS Martin, Harry Beckhoff. Add Al Parker. On reflection, however, I recognize that what I admire about all four is draftsmanship and a sense of design. Important stuff, but not quite on the level of the tribe, as I see it. My attachment to their work isn’t tied to content; in three out of the four, my attachment formed despite the content of their work. Milt Caniff made up adventure stories for newspaper readers; Beckhoff drew fiction illustrations of guys in suits and statuesque women--drawing room scenes, mostly; Al Parker did fiction work for romance stories. All three transcend their material, Parker especially, but they’re still attached to it. (DSM drew Jazz musicians and did his bit to establish the territory of the album cover; sturdier somehow, and plenty honorable.)

Yet when I ask where are my deepest connections--who, maybe I should phrase it, are my heroes?–I get a different set of people.

I have come to realize that all of my most significant work engages the social landscape in some basic way. Many of my major projects have all been about places: Mustardville, Mohicanland, Starkdale. (Gallery for same here.) The project I am preparing for 2011 is a cousin to these. Even when the places have been fictional, they’ve all been grounded in observation. I mean that physically and culturally. (I am a cultural empiricist!)

Three artists who come to mind immediately for me: Stuart Davis (1892-1964), Philip Guston (1913-1980) and Robert Weaver (1924-1994). All were readers of social landscapes, if in wildly different ways. Davis integrated cubism, commercial design and the American scene, forging a language grounded in observation and based on form. Guston built a circular career that began in the WPA, moved into the refinement of abstract expressionism, and culminated in a grubby embrace of the everyday. And Robert Weaver drove the journalistic imperative in American illustration from the mid 1950s into the 1980s. I have presented lots of Weaver in this space before, notably, here and here.

In addition, I feel substantial connections to certain interpretive artists: the jazz singer Cassandra Wilson comes to mind. The interpretive question is a fascinating one, for another day.

I identify with the novelist Richard Ford, another social landscapist, and his novel The Sportswriter.

The topic deserves more writing and thought, but this is not the format for it. For the benefit of demonstration for my puzzled seniors: over the course of writing this miniature essay, I think I might have named my tribe: social landscapists. For me, the social landscape is built out of human artifacts.

I did not know that, exactly, when I started to type. Which is why writing is an important act, even for artists.

Images: Stuart Davis, Variation on Little Giant Still Life, 1964; D.B. Dowd, Frances Yvette! Plate No. 4 from Cry Mustardville, 1995; Philip Guston, Gliders, circa 1943; Guston, Friend–To M.F., 1978; Guston, Pyramid and Shoe, 1977; Dowd, Elk in Cityscape, animation still, Scenes from Starkdale, Ohio, 2006; Davis, The Paris Bit, 1959; Davis, Egg Beater No. 5, 1930; Jimmy Katz, Cassandra Wilson, photograph, 2002; design credit unavailable, Vintage Contemporaries cover design for The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford; Dowd, So Pump it Yourself, from Visit Mohicanland, 200o.


Bob Flynn said...

Fantastic post, DB. I've been reflecting on heroes and influences as well, as new ones continue to bubble up. I especially respond to this point:

"If you aspire to be a producer of culture, you must also be a passionate participant in it."

More than anything else, I believe this is what has gotten me to where I am today. It's what keeps you digging and questioning; it's what motivates the desire to grow and learn—seemingly without end. Passion for what you do, and having some awareness of where you fit in.

DB Dowd said...

Bob, so good to hear from you! I have enjoyed following your work, which continues to find new outlets and admirers. And I'm glad to hear, though not surprised, that you too are motivated by a sense of participation and position (the latter a question of location, not rank).

johnnybull said...

COUNT ME IN AS A NEW FAN, DB! (whoops) have just stubled across you trying to get reference for David Stone Martin. There's nothing here I don't find ravishing and nourishing in equal measure. Best wishes for 2011 and beyond...

johnnybull said...

I stumbled across, not stubled, natch.

Aehee said...

I was a little bit confused by what the term 'tribe' means, especially to illustrators.
Before thinking about where are my deepest connections("heroes") from, I had to really think about what is my connection to my work and asking myself why I'm doing this. I'm finding a little hint and still need time to seek my heroes.

Jennifer Yoo said...

This post made me think about several artists who inspired my work.(my tribe) Make me to check each artist artwork and find out how they influence my art work in a different way. And I started to think what I am really passionate about, what I really want to illustrate.

Laura Beckman said...

Love this post. If I had to pick a few historical art movements, they would probably be Surrealism, Romanticism, and possibly Film Noir. I agree that it is important to separate in one's mind admiration of an artist's technical with investment in their content. However, I feel that for many of the artists I admire, the manner of execution is inherently linked to the content. If it is not

What ties together the artists I turn to sustain me is a sense of admiration and awe at the beauty in the universe (not just external or physical, but also internal), combined with an element of melodrama. I also enjoy and appreciate snark and satire, but ultimately, its not what motivates me to keep going. Rufus Wainwright, a musician who also happens to make his own cover art, sort of defined my "tribe" since high school.

His work, and work like his, has often been demeaned as "self indulgent", but I find it hard to see it as purely self indulgent when it has inspired and empowered so many others besides himself to get through tough times. Indulgence that serves to visualize an aspiration is, in my opinion, a step above pure decadence.

Jim O'Boyle said...

This concept is interesting and challenging to me - definitely fruitful to consider. Since high school, or whenever I began to develop a sense of "artistic identity,"I've always resisted categorization. My early portfolio was a haphazard pile of wildly diverse pieces and if there was one quality I strove for, it was versatility. When I would look at artists whose oevre seemed to derive from the same original idea, I would almost resent them for it. I couldn't understand why someone with vast technical ability would choose to voluntarily pigeonhole themselves - at any rate, it seemed like "settling" to me. It was a force to be resisted.

My views on this have changed significantly, but I still have to contend with an instinctive relunctance to linger in the same creative mode for long. I want to develop a coherent, marketable identity, and I don't want to be "spread to thin" - mediocre at many things instead of good at one. But I think inevitably, I will not feel fulfilled unless I am applying myself to a broad range of artistic endeavors.

If there's something common running through the things I like to make it is the ghost of pop culture. My favorite things I've made seem to be by-products of cultural consumption. This doesn't mean I want to make Futurama fan-art for the rest of my days - rather I'd like to make work that has a sort of companionship with trends in entertainment media. I want to be informed through watching, listening and reading and I want to make things that are outcroppings of that experience. I think this is important because it is different than applying cultural knowledge to an idea retroactively - I want the cultural experience to produce the idea from the very beginning.

This sounds terribly abstract but it occurs to me frequently in a very real way. I think my tribe may not even consist of artists. I think having admiration/obsession with other artists' aesthetics is one of the most important things that can happen to you, but I'm more likely to find similar spirits in people who review films for NPR or something. At least that's my first reaction. Certainly the question will haunt me further.

Audrey W. said...

Thanks for the post. The difference between the styles and the content you respond to is interesting. Oftentimes I find that the people whose styles I respond to (aspire to?) also work with conceptual themes I like. I find it hard to separate the two at times. I can be stopped from enjoying the content of a work because the style of it is so alien to me that I feel I can't relate to the artist - stylistically, conceptually, philosophically. Charles Burns's work comes to mind here. I am incapable of making smooth lines, so I am naturally distrustful of people who work with surgical precision (they are probably robots).

As you noted, looking at the type of content I am interested in was more revealing to me than looking at the styles I identify with. This issue of content is exactly what I am struggling with in choosing a text for my seminar project. I have noticed that there is a divide between what I like to make and what I like to consume. Or what I am good at making and what I like to consume. For example, I really enjoy tragedy (the genre, not the reality), but my style, my way of thinking and working, is not really compatible with tragic subject matter. I have more success with funny material. I like a much broader range of things than the type of work I make now can effectively capture. I'm interested in pushing the range of what I know I can do to find out how much of the canon of things I like to consume can be incorporated into the canon of things I like to make. But I feel like running up against obstacles like this is something we are trying to learn how to avoid, not inflict upon ourselves. I need to figure out how important it is for me to be able to make work that fully represents the range of content I am interested in. Can I be satisfied with what my strengths allow me to easily do?

Jenna Stempel said...

I've always thought that galleries and museums are like a temple or synagogue for art; the quiet atmosphere always prompts me to think/reflect/commune, specifically, with installation art that contends with architecture. People like Tara Donovan, who's repetitive use of material mimes the use of line I like in 2D work.

In most things I look at execution instead of content, unless its particularly clever, like the street art that is an example "culture jamming," [I had a big punk rock phase in high school]. In general, between packaging and installations, the idea of the object is much more interesting to me because i myself am so bad with 3D construction. It feels like my brain can only consider facets.

Therefore, I find it interesting that Audrey recognized a divide between what she likes to make and what she likes to consume. I think what I like to consume is much more aesthetically driven, for the most part, (which gets funneled in as visual research as ways to solve problems) but I am much more engaged in making things that are concept-driven.

I think I need to consistently remember how important a broad range of research is, even if it's a non-linear process, like when House makes a diagnosis from a completely unrelated idea. Gallery and museum excursions will be much more important as I continue to narrow focus.

Lisa Ito said...

I was raised on animation - everything from Disney and Looney Toons to Batman the Animated Series to Sailor Moon and Pokemon. As a result, I think I try to emulate the frames of a cartoon or a comic when I need to solve problems related to composition and narrative. I also notice that I become enthralled with well designed characters, worlds, or storylines, such as the world of Harry Potter or the intricate, fictional, war-related plots of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. I am also definitely a sucker for Disney/Pixar narratives aimed at children with messages that preach values of things like friendship, famiiy, or not giving up.

I also enjoy content that focuses on the everyday, but has something that makes it more interesting. That something could be illustrative style or a plot twist in literature. I think Al Parker, Harry Beckhoff, and other similar illustrators who have done work for the tearsheets in the Modern Graphic Library exhibit this to some extent, and I think in terms of execution, my illustrations strive to emulate their work. I also think my favorite author, Haruki Murakami, does something similar, because his plotlines are are about everyday people who encounter odd things. The style of Parker, Beckhoff, and Murakami are also all stripped to only what's necessary to get a narrative across; there is little over-ornamentation or over-rendering.

As a 3rd generation Japanese-American, I am also very intrigued by the visual influences of Japanese aesthetics, and how they tie into the history of illustration. I have a soft spot for the imagery used in old woodblock prints and decorative patterns used in Japanese textiles and china. I am also interested in the work that was more more influenced by Western culture, particularly anime that became popular in America around the 60's, like Speed Racer, and Tezuka Osamu's work. In that same vein, I also enjoy the art of Takashi Murakami. Yuko Shimizu and Jillian Tamaki's work are also inspiring because their styles are also a result of Japanese heritage working in the western world. Similarly, I enjoy musical artists who cross Japanese and American influences, like m-flo, whose lyrics switch between English and Japanese, or Nujabes, a Japanese hip-hop artist.

Diana C said...

Finally confronting my heroes? Ah, yes the day has come. My influences have two distinct (and before this semester, I understood them as conflicting) sides: magic and design.

Magic: My fine art influences consist of a stable of artists who seem to apply paint in an effortless way (though Dali is the exception, ah that man) that reveals some incorporeal detail in the work that cannot be harnessed or reproduced. Perhaps this glorification of the elusive “mystery” of painting explains my strong bias for the “genius” artist, whose work is guided by some inexplicable creative force, and great paintings just “happen”. Just typing that I realize how much I’ve (un)learned about the creative process and design’s role in what I consider strong art. If I’m forced to name drop, Odd Nerdrum, Klimt, Singer Sargent (because I’m a romantic), Egon Scheile and Jack Vetrianno are my first-circle buds.

Design: On a confessional note, I recognize that I consume far too many fashion magazines than is safe for the average tweenage girl - but the only good to come out of it is realizing how directorially graphic, designed and conceptually driven each spread/photoshoot/collection that I consume is. I'm less interested in the instructional or remedial nature of these objects (unless there's a need for a good laugh) but the more artistically curated photo-shoots and the advertisements of the larger fashion houses draw me in general. Hence the conclusion: my best work has a strong sense of design in it, and I recognize that the “mystical masters” of fine art toiled over the same basic principles of composition, color and 2D design that we all know and love. So my definition of magic is now “effortful effortlessness”.

As for how this relates to what comes out of my pen (it’s not a Micron I swear!), I’m a big “private” writer; to-do lister, private-blogger, thought-scribbler, excerpt-copier, note-taker. I do far less drawing in my notebooks than I do musing. I write letters to the friends and folks frequently. That’s how I explain my keen interest in poetry (as a consumer and creator) and its highly crafted nuggets of linguistic power. Can someone say…designed language? Visual imagery and language are so linked for me, that I see no departure from my visual-textual impulses in my future – I will only continue to explore its function and tensile relationship.

As Miss Audrey noted in her work, I also find that my strength lies more in humor than I had previously recognized, especially given my liking of subjects and people who are best construed as “social misfits”. Yes, The Breakfast Club is actually my favorite movie, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame my favorite book (Quasimodo a social misfit? Please.) Incongruently, a lot of social liminality deals with grittier, darker issues, but that never enters the stream of my work. As I discovered from our final project, I’m more PG and that relieves me. Having said that, I’m a little surprised that I’ve never much gotten into comics or graphic novels. Food for another blog comment.

DavidB said...

All of my life I associated fine artists with boredom, due to long trips to museums that would consume valuable time on family vacations. Therefore most of the visual information that I took in and emulated was the pop culture of the time, or at least what pop culture is to a small child with no cable and a propensity to be satisfied with the stories he creates in his head.

This meant Disney movies, the funny pages, and a vast number of illustrated children's books were the subjects of most of my drawings. Me and my sister used to draw together a lot, and when she figured out a cool way to draw something I would just steal it from her. As I've grown older these sources have remained mostly the same, becoming Pixar movies, webcomics and the characters in "rage" stories. Artists like Kate Beaton and KC Green are now the people I strive to emulate, thankfully moving me away from Jim Davis, a childhood hero.

The story is also a very important to me, and I love to read, especially fantasy. As a child I plowed through Goosebumps and Animorphs, moving on to Dragonlance and LoTR as a teen, and I am now sluggishly moving my way through a Song of Ice and Fire. I can't stand non-fiction- I love imagined worlds and fantastical happenings, which I tend to reflect in my art, as well as the stories I create and too frequently refuse to write down.

Elizabeth Beier said...

Hi, Doug!. Sorry this took so long. As you have gathered, I love graphic novels. I am also inspired by books, the Huffington Post, certain podcasts, classic Disney movies, leftist and queer politics, and people I know. Who are my heroes artistically? Honestly Ira Glass of This American Life, Augusten Burroughs, and Barbara Enrich rank pretty high.

My favorite graphic novelists are Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Renee French, Alex Robinson, Art Spiegelman, Julie Doucet and YES Charles Burns - I actually do like his content. I think the bravest piece of comic writing I have ever read is the little known "Daddy's Girl" by Debbie Drechsler, which recounts the sexual violence she faced as a child. It is breathtakingly sad I may never read it again because it ruined a whole week for me, but it does inspire me that such works are possible.

Many of the people I consider to be my "heroes" are people I know. For instance: woman in LA named Shelley Brown who went door to door in the rough parts of Los Angeles talking to voters about gay rights and her own queer identity. She did this not once every few weeks, like I do when I live in California, but EVERY DAY for five hours a day for months on end. I once shadowed her from door to door, and I was blown away by her courage - not just in where she was willing to go, but in what she was willing to say. So she, for example, is a "hero" to me.

I want to continue to create art that is sequential, such as comics or motion. I want to develop my abilities as a writer and will devote much time to that next semester. In terms of content, I get most invested in things which are politically direct - I confess I may never get all jazzed up about kerning if it's not in the service of something I think is "important". I recently discovered that there is a company called "Prism Comics" that gives grants to young artists who make comics about gay themes - they will hear from me!

Sincerely, Elizabeth.

Cord Luehrman said...

I have noticed that things I enjoy reading or looking at may not be a visual style I aspire to, but if something is visually striking or the story is interesting, I usually like it. I'll pick up on this with Charles Burns, since a few posts mention him as a hero. Sometimes his drawing style bugs me (definition of surfaces, how the edges of shadows do that goofy zig-zag thing), but I find the stories he tells strange and intriguing, and his command of black and white and the overall spread are great to look at.

I'm kind of unsure if I'm more attracted to content or visuals; I don't think I could definitively say yet what interests me more. It will certainly be something I think about more and more as I consider who my "heroes" are. I think when I am consuming something, I lean more towards the aesthetics, but then when I am making, I lean more towards content.

While many of my aesthetic heroes reside in the comics/graphic novels area, I think a good deal of my heroes also do not deal with the visual as directly. I need to think about this more, and I think looking back to Aristotle's six elements of drama might help me determine why I enjoy certain things.

More to ponder, as always.

miki said...

My heroes include Ed Young, Marc Chagall, Maira Kalman.

Right now, I’d say my tribe includes Ed, Marc, Maira, Pierre Bonnard, Alice Neel, short story writers…. Why? I think these constitute my tribe because they capture a moment and shape their art in a distinct, personalized voice through distillation and amplification. The work of Maira Kalman and of Pierre Bonnard resonate with me in part because their art is often of people and places and objects of personal significance.

To what/whom shall I turn after graduation? See above, plus children’s books, the natural world, websites and podcasts (including NPR, TEDTalks, Brain Pickings, Selected Shorts, The Moth, New Yorker Fiction), graphic design, film (especially shorts and animation, particularly the more hand-crafted variety), books always, art everywhere

Max T. said...

This is an interesting question for me because I have always invested heavily in having cultural influences for almost everything I do. Further than that I have always been very interested in finding the through-lines in the different media I consume.

What is my tribe? that has been harder than expected to place. So much of my investment in literature, art, illustration, music, movies, tv, and performance has been geared toward a thorough grasp of canonical works. While I hopefully would be able list all the media that has defined a significant part of my life, I will attempt to be more specific here.

The qualities that I value in work are related but I'm not really able to define them singularly. First, something I have always identified with, but has only recently started to enter my work is a sense of excess. Whether it be structural or formal. The sense of a well made, but completely over the top thing is very appealing to me. This partly explains my affinity for funk music and death metal. This might be why I love movies like The Thing or any number of scifi movies/books. It is the reason for my original investment in comic books; the books that originally really hooked me were Transmetropolitan and Preacher. Open to any page, you'll see why. This is really a surface characteristic though; all these things are also well made.

Camp and excess by themselves are junk food. My cultural diet is underpinned by story and craft. Narratives that are obsessively crafted, whether that be a well shot movie, a well paneled page of comics, or a well slapped bass, are compelling to me. Things that are practiced and learned excessively and the product is technically beautiful, effortless, and purposeful. They create an experience. Jazz musicians like John Scofield and Craig Taborn do this well.

For brevity's sake, I will stop myself from trying to explain how the different aspects of things I like come together. Things that I believe epitomize the craft, darkness, excess, and wit I find valuable: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. The album Lullabies to ParaIyze by the Queens of the Stone Age. I think the tribe currently producing material most like this that I consume, in the world of drawing, would be comic artists for imprints like Image and Dark Horse. Mike Mignola, Nathan Fox, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, etc. Also David Aja and some others for Marvel.

Susie Kim said...

It was such an interesting question to ponder upon what is my tribe… I knew that I do have an inclination for liking some types of cultural products whether formally or content-wise, but it was so vague that I would not be able to articulate what kinds of thing I like and why like them. After reading this post, I made a list of my favorite music, films, art works, and literature, etc. just to have some concrete examples to get a clue about what my tribe would be like. There was a range of styles and genre, since I do have some stuff that I like because I can somehow identify with them and some that I like because they are so different from what I do. But I could see certain common factors among what might seem to be a random list… I have been making semi-fantasic images combining different figures and spaces to imply a narrative, and it seems that I do have an inclination toward fantastic, magical themes.

Tim Burton's Big Fish, Christopher Nolan's Inception, Miyazaki's Sprited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle… Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Before the Law, Nikolai Gogal's The Overcoat, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez… Magical realism that blurs the border between the real world and the fantasy world. What I like about the magical realistic contents is that somewhat distorted, unrealistic world gives a great chance for a person to reveal his true nature or inner mind. Roald Dahl's children's fictions as well as his collection of short stories that are often dark and mysterious. Mystery thriller is another genre that I like since it also offers a ruthless view into the hidden desires and crude human nature. Let me include Grimm brothers' tales and myths, legends, superstitions, and even urban legends. These things fascinate me.
When I came upon the name Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I realized that some of the tendency toward magical realism or some sort of it can be seen in the previous projects I have done in this class. The animals in the metro might be more explicit version of fantasy world mixed with the real world. And the narrative sequence project--where I chose the story that lacked the causal connection between the events… It was from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.
I'm in love with Jillian Tamaki's illustrations for Irish Myths and Legends, and Goblin Market, not only in terms of the subject matters but also in terms of how the images are designed and executed. Sam Weber's works are fascinating and sometimes terrifying with the stunning lifelikeness… I would not necessarily want to draw like him but I admire the mystical, eerie atmosphere present in almost every work of his. I love the fairy-tale like quality of the works of Natalie Ascencios and Tim Bower.

Somewhat muted color palettes are another thing that I am drawn to… I can look at Monet's paintings for hours admiring the variety and subtlety of the colors applied to describe a fleeting moment. Post impressionism is great too. van Gogh, and Cezanne. There might not be a magical element but these paintings seem to reveal more than the superficial appearances. and Schiele too.

Decorative patterns and frames are something that I would love to work with. Art Nouveau and Gustav Klimt are my inspirations.

Dan R said...

Who are my heroes? This has been a very difficult question for me to answer for the longest time now. I think two things have been making this a challenge for me.

For one, I have the tendency to get wrapped up in a vacuum of my own ideas and making, which leaves me with not much room in my head to "care about" what other people have been doing. I've come to realize the dangers of this mindset for an illustrator -- lack of exposure means lack of healthy transformation with the outside world of art.

But this isn't to say that I'm not inspired by anything, which is definitely wrong. Growing up, I always had a habit of wanting to imitate anything that I saw and liked -- this went even beyond art, causing me to desire many different futures at some point in my childhood, including professional skateboarder, video game developer, musician, writer, and others. So then if I'm so easily inspired, why do I have trouble pinpointing"heroes" in the field of art? I think it's because I'm more drawn to individual titles or the works themselves rather than the artist who made them. My thought process has always been "I don't care who made the thing, I just want to see more of it made." Of course now I've realized the contradiction here, because the answer to finding more of a given inspiration is to explore the source of the inspiration.

Given that I've only recently been able to pinpoint my problems, I can't reasonably say that I'll be able to fully answer the question anytime soon. But I can share with you what I do know for sure:

I'm driven first and foremost by creative storytelling. My innate love for stories can be seen in most of my other hobbies, mainly fiction writing and playing video games (the ones with stories, not the mindless gun games you usually see nowadays). Speaking more visually, it is my love for storytelling that draws me to graphic novel artists -- people who create their own stories and do all the picture-making too. Many of these idols are of Japanese origin -- Osamu Tezuka, Masashi Kishimoto -- which explains why my way of drawing seems so heavily influenced by anime. Looking specifically at form rather than content (how I make things versus what I'm making), some contemporary illustrators whose work I admire include Tomer Hanuka, Frank Stockton, Dan Dos Santos, and a ton of other people I've found on Behance while goofing around.

In my search for more "heroes," it is the world of the graphic novel that I will turn to. I've bookmarked a few names that I plan to check out, such as Scottie Young and Jill Thompson, but I acknowledge that there is much work to be done before I can say I'm culturally fluent, so to speak, in my field of interest.

Sofia K. said...

When asked who my personal heroes are, I find myself struggling to come up with a concrete answer. I'm the kind of person who will see something, like it, then move on to the next thing, without ever really taking the time to note who made it or how. However, over the past few months, I've tried to take this bad habit and transform it into something more useful. I now make an effort to take a picture, print it out, hang it up, and I really try to surround myself with things that inspire me. The simple act of placing things in my visual field has greatly changed the way I work and think.
However, this still doesn't really address the people who make up my heroes. After thinking about it for a while, I think I am generally more inspired by tangible things and products rather than specific people. For example, I find myself drawn to stores like Anthropologie, Kate Spade, and J.Crew, and the way design and illustration are used in products and packaging. Using these as jumping off points, i have discovered designers that could be in my tribe. These include Carson Ellis, Jason Holly, Heads of State. These are all artists I have been shown, and it is now up to me to really start discovering more people and finding exactly who it is who will provide inspiration once I am out on my own, without the help of teachers and other students to guide me.

Nicole Y. said...

This semester has forced me to reconsider how I view making and what defines my process. A tricky combination, especially while taking Voice.

Based off of what I’ve discovered with the seasons project, a strong interest in shape, but one that could also benefit from line, color, and texture, I would say a few heroes would include Charley Harper, Lotta Nieminen, Marc Martin, and Christopher Denise. Charley Harper especially, not just because I admire some of his more popular subject matter (birds, sealife… yay!) but because of the strong sense of design—well composed, good control of color, hard shapes balanced with more brushy strokes. Additionally, his work has a very whimsical and light quality to it without being “cutesy,” which relates to my kind of “world” which we discussed after the hundred figures. Lotta Nieminen, who identifies as both a designer and illustrator, interests me because her use of pattern, shape, and texture within her illustrations. Her featured design work includes image making (icons, hand lettering), prop development (handcrafted paper hats for a magazine feature!) and more organic grids. I would say that I might admire her work more than I relate to the actual formal qualities though, because while I enjoy her use of shape, I think her illustrations all retain a very high sense of structure and reliance on angles that I don’t necessarily see myself working with. Marc Martin is an in between—some of his more organic-looking work seems heavily influenced by Charley Harper, while others that are clearly vector images become far more abstracted, such as circles for human heads and blobs for hair. I strongly relate to the “world” Christopher Denise (illustrator of the Redwall children’s books) develops and the way he makes his images. I think I admire the way he makes pictures so much that I’ve been “planning” to draw like him, except his way of making takes weeks to produce finished results which are difficult to work with within a much shorter deadline. Regardless, I love his ability to capture a sense of place and emotion.

Julie S. said...

It would seem that I've spent most of my time as an illustration student fighting. I've fought against the label "cartoonist" that came up during Word & Image I. I've fought against drawing people and faces and hands, but during the last project, I gave up the fight and doing so yielded results that I am really proud of. I learned that I only hurt myself my limiting my ambitions, be it within the aesthetic limits of a Micron pen or the creative limits of my preconceived notion of "branding." So when asked to name heroes, these are only a start, because the last thing I need to do is limit myself to a tiny set of visual inspiration. Artists in my tribe use carefully considered line to tell stories with hints of visual cleverness or humor; I'll start the list for now with Herge, Sarnath Banerjee, and Tuesday Bassen.

Allison S. said...

When I started at WashU, I knew for a fact that I would end up on strictly the design side of the Communication Design major. I practically loathed drawing, and Drawing I and II didn't really help that situation. Oddly enough, when I began taking classes junior year, I was attracted to the more illustration based projects in Word and Image. Whoops. Where did that come from?

I think it stems from the fact that a lot of the design I admire seamlessly incorporates illustration and design (and sometimes even photo too). When I design something, I want to be able to create a whole seamless language of image and type. I feel like I can't really solve a problem if I am only working with type or I am only working with image. And oftentimes appropriating images from others just isn't going to cut it.

That being said, ask me to draw from life and you won't like what you see. It just doesn't click with me. Illustration on the other hand, I'm starting to get to work for me. And I think I am doing it by bringing elements of design practice into my illustrations. I think that I spend more time designing images- figuring out how each part fits together, the hierarchy of the parts, etc... - than "illustrating." I am far from perfecting this.

To borrow a term from Jen Meyer, I think I would define my tribe as "designastrators." People who are composing images, not drawing them in the tradition sense. Sometimes I feel more like I'm collaging a bunch of pieces together in the right way to make a whole.

If illustrator's had groupies, I'd be Tad Carpenter's ( His use of shape and more subtly line and texture is right up my alley. My illustrations definitely fall into his sort of cartoon vocabulary as well. I recently started following Wesley Robins ( and Betowers ( as well. Looking at their work has inspired me to be a little more fluid with the way that I sketch. When I was just looking at Tad Carpenter's work I think I struggled trying to fit things into a system that was too limiting and specific. I would also include Alex Perez ( in my tribe. His use of line with shape is very interesting to me. All of these people seem to have a few things in common to me, most notably, the people don't look like real people (well duh)- They all simplify people down to fairly irregular forms, hyperbolizing certain aspects and minimizing others to say something about the characters. And that's all I have for now...

Max T. said...
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Michelle Nahmad said...

As some others mentioned, I feel as I am also (especially as of late) continuously finding new inspirations, though I definitely have those that I turn to more constantly. Some among these constant inspirations (or some of my heroes) include Robert Weaver, William Kentridge, Anselm Kiefer, Andrea Dezso, Stefan Sagmeister, and Wes Anderson. Though medium and content shifts, a strong interest in storytelling with a connection to the social landscape links many of these. These kinds of narratives and and an investment in the kinds of material specificity, and at times the handmade, to more fully convey them draws me to the work of these artists (illustrators, designers, filmmakers, performers...). In my work, I am very interested in material, specificity, and, when relevant, the incorporation of some analog methods, but ultimately the story dictates.

Alix Marson said...
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Alix M. said...

Only this year did I really start making a habit of studying the work of specific illustrators, designers, and other artists in relation to my own work that I like to imagine myself developing and producing as my education comes together to a (hopefully) climactic end. The first illustrator I fell in love with was Albertine. A few others I've gathered that I find myself constantly keeping open in tabs are Carson Ellis, James Gulliver Hancock, Kate Sutton, Adrian Dutt, and Methane Studios. I'd also like to work on creating a group of illustrators who focus more on product design and advertising.

Chloe said...

During the course of this semester, I have been struggling with trying to find a visual identity that matches the work that I like and the work that I create. When I first started drawing, I was inspired by the prolific work of Normal Rockwell. I loved the way that he captured the idealistic portrayal of American Life. Although his subject matter is one that greatly interests me, my style of depicting them has become more graphic

I find that my tribe tends to shift around during each project. For my last body of work, I was greatly inspired by illustrators such as Pascal Blanchet, Cliff Roberts and Jim Flora. These three illustrators take liberties with human anatomy, and have a similar aesthetic for capturing unique shapes in the human form as well as other forms. They have each created a unique world for their work that is consistent to what they are making. I aspire to have that consistency in the future.

Consistency has been my main obstacle in figuring out what direction I want to take. While I still love the work of the three illustrators listed above, I find that during this current project, I have been drawing from life, and am noticing that what I am creating is not exactly in line with the three men in my tribe. I have been viewing the world with a much more critical eye for shape, but I am also interested in the detail of my subjects. While I am still greatly inspired by Pascal Blanchet, I am also attracted to illustrators such as Michael Hirshmen, Steve Simpson and Emmanuel Polonco. I really love the way that these illustrators are able to capture a scene using graphic shape, color and collage.

Esther Hamburger said...

Had I been asked to consider my tribe last year, my response would have been vague and rambling. I did not start thinking about the work of other illustrators as a jumping off point of sorts until the end of junior spring semester, when a friend mentioned that I might enjoy the art of Moebius. She was right; in Moebius' work I recognized qualities that I not only admire but also aspire towards in my own image making. I have come to the realization that I tend to flounder during the final, formalizing stage of a project. My tribe consists of artists such as James Gurney, Shaun Tan, and Dave McKean, illustrators whose work provides my process and product with a framework of sorts. Others include N.C. Wyeth, Lisbeth Zwerger, filmmakers Jan Svankmajer and Guillermo del Toro… tribe is ever-expanding.