Personal Book Project: technique verus concept. Part One

I had a dream about a huge bird in summer 2011, right before I started the first semester in the graduate program in Illustration. The following week I found a picture by Max Ernst (from his ‘collage novel’ ” A Week of Kindness”, 1934) and suddenly knew I wanted to study artist books as part of my theses project. I had already started a series of drawings on book  pages and I was immediately drawn to Max Ernst collages.

Max Ernst, a page from book “Une semaine de bonté” (1934)

In my first semester as graduate student I researched Max Ernst’s collage novels and other artists’ books that used only images to tell the whole story. Ironically, Ernst’s surrealist books have no story, he only tricks the viewer’s mind to believe there is a story.

I have been preoccupied with printmaking and I wanted my illustrations to be print-like. The greatest challenge was defining my style or technique. My Illustration professor kept repeating to me the steps of illustration: 1. concept, 2. composition, 3. value, 4. color, 5. technique. Yet, my ears were party death to her words and I stubbornly worked backwards to her model. Finally, I got to the point were I needed to abandon all the images I had made.

I started to draw, doodle, and make prints again. Especially, printmaking helped me to take my mind off of thinking about ‘the technique’. Preparation of the printing plate is purely mechanical – filing edges, polishing the plate’s surface, inking and wiping the ink off the plate before pulling a print. It felt at that time that my prints came from very personal experience and the image making was more intuitive to me. That wasn’t so with my illustration work. About the same time I had a very interesting conversation with my undergraduate painting professor Morjorie Portnow. She said that painters and illustrators think differently. Meaning, illustrators are highly organized and painters more intuitive in their image making process. Coming from mainly studio art background into illustration, I had to go through that mental struggle naturally. However, the best illustrators’ and fine artists’ are not very different from each other: in the core, I believe, the meaningful images are intuitive, reflecting artist’s personal view on things that matter for them. For example, Michael Whelan’s book covers (Whelan was a visiting lecture that fall semester) – he said that even some of his commissioned book cover projects began often from very personal experience.

When I was through with my reflection period, I had made many prints, drawings and was ready to go back to my book project and start from the step one – concept. I let my technique grow out of pencil marks that have my personal touch and scruffiness. I started to form a collection of images that followed the same style.

…to be continued

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