Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Animal Art & Wildlife Photography

With all this self-isolation and quarantine at home I seem to be watching even more TV. The news is being dominated by the pandemic and the commercials are focused on AARP, SHAG housing, Medicare insurance schemes, and psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis treatments. I've learned to use the Mute button a lot! Anyway, I do enjoy the Heartgard Plus commercial that shows different breeds of dogs hiding from fleas and ticks by using familiar objects as camouflage. Very creative!

From Heartgard Plus Ad

Maybe you've seen the Greyhound sitting on a porch next to its twin statue. And the mop that comes to life as a Hungarian Puli (a.k.a. mop dog). And the Shar-Pei nestled among a pile of towels. Now that's advertising at its best!

From Heartgard Plus Ad

I've also been watching reruns of the National Dog Shows hosted by John O'Hurley. The National Park Service is broadcasting live Watching Wildlife webcams designed to entertain us while we are stuck indoors. I know, it's not like being there, but would you honestly like to be 30 feet away from a grizzly bear or a cougar in its natural habitat? And, while I enjoy taking virtual tours of art museums, I'd much rather see the artwork in-person.

We have lots of wild animals roaming behind our house, and I've seen hawks and bald eagles flying overhead. All of this inspires me to compose a post devoted to our pets and backyard wildlife. 

Our family pets were captured in the wild at Lake Sawyer toward the end of a short hike on Memorial Day Weekend. Another activity many of us can enjoy during this phase of COVID-19 recovery.

Whippet Watercolor

Heron Statue, Knapp Winery, Romulus, NY

In 2019 I posted about my three brothers' trip to the Baseball HOF for the induction of 
Edgar Martinez,  Harold Baines,
Mike Mussina,
Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, and the late Roy Halladay.
We met up in Michigan where  I saw my older brother's art collection of dogs and horses and later, art from our road trip through the Finger Lakes on our way to Cooperstown, NY.

In subsequent posts, I've included other Family Art. In addition to his Chinese Crested, my brother has painted the basset hounds he had as pets and the horses he and his wife have cared for over the years.

For 25 years, my sister-in-law has been an avid and accomplished wildlife photographer. Her wonderful photographs are available for sale on Alamy and for viewing on Flickr. I love how she captures hummingbirds, the beautiful colors of the (out-of-focus) backgrounds,

...the pairing of animals
(e.g. - the two-headed 
lion. Ha!),

...the composition of a bird perched atop a horse's back with the contrasting white hair, as if a giant bird is navigating a wintery landscape,

...and of course the classic backyard birds, berries, and branches. These make beautiful postcards for sending to family and friends to keep in touch during this time of physical separation.

My Michigan family traditionally visits nearby racetracks and vacations specifically in towns having racetracks -- Santa Anita Park in CA; Gulfstream Park in FL; Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs, NY; Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, KY; Arlington Park in Chicago; and Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY (for the Breeders Cup in November 2010). Here are some photos that were taken at various racetracks.

It's exciting to watch the graceful thoroughbreds race along the track carrying their brightly colored jockeys toward the finish line. Each rider is sporting a different pattern of silks -- polka dots, diamonds, or stripes -- and the helmets remind me of solid billiard balls moving together on a pool table.

"Jockeys Avant Course" (1895), Edgar Degas

I am inspired to share this small Degas painting that I saw in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek this past June while on a Baltic cruise. Degas painted several such paintings of jockeys hanging out before a race. Probably more famous are his paintings of ballet dancers, who are equally graceful subjects.

French Briard from Dogs by Rien Poortvliet

My brother has recommended the books,
“Dogs” and “Horses” by Dutch artist and draftsman,
Rien Poortvliet (1932-95), who was also a wildlife photographer.

Horses (1978), Rien Poortvliet, Netherlands

Carotene Thief, Carl Sams

Albino Doe and Triplet Fawns, Carl Sams

Another wildlife photographer from Michigan is Carl R. Sams II (and partner Jean Stoick). You can see more at the Michigan Artists Gallery. This snowman reminds me of the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbs. Have you ever seen an albino deer?

Catch of the Day, Mangelsen

Wildlife photographer and sculptor, Thomas D. Mangelsen, takes amazing photographs of wildlife and turns them into bronze sculptures (see the link to his gallery).

“Taking Flight” Great Blue Heron, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah

I've been a member of the
Black Diamond Arts Alliance for the past year, where I met local wildlife photographer, Zbig Kasprzyk. He is a retired police officer and a world traveler. He won the People's Choice Award at our Spring Art Show for a landscape he printed on metal.

“Serenity” Female Elephant, Zulu Nyala Game Reserve, South Africa

Zbig used a Nikon 80mm-400mm lens to capture this shot from ~50-75 feet away. On a different drive, he was surrounded by a herd of elephants about this close!

You can see more photos on Instagram, Zbig Kasprzyk Photos.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


Earlier this year I published a post entitled, Math and Science in Art. The Magnetic building tiles that I referenced are traditionally used as blocks for making three-dimensional buildings or towers. We also used them as an activity in an adult daycare memory unit where I volunteer in teaching art. We purchased two one-hundred-piece sets. I passed out about a dozen pieces of various shapes and sizes for my clients to work with and it was a big hit. The translucent colored tiles were visually stimulating and the magnetic interlocking shapes provided kinesthetic learning in a fun physical activity.

Engaging in such tactile learning reminded us all of an activity we did when we were younger, working to stimulate the brain much like singing songs we learned many years ago.


We also used a whiteboard to quickly draw familiar items using dry-erase markers in a game much like Pictionary. Since we were already using these tiles and the whiteboard was magnetic, I decided to make two-dimensional tangrams of familiar objects and animals for my students to guess.

Visual art is about making connections between what we see and feel and combining areas of color juxtaposed to create lines and form compositions. Using geometric shapes in distinctly different colors to construct tangrams is like using Picasso's and Braque's Cubism to paint something abstractly.

Here are some more ideas for making tangrams out of geometric shapes:




I recently watched an episode of "The Joy of Painting" in which Bob Ross invited his old painting instructor to demonstrate how to paint a portrait. "Contemplative Lady" (S16E6) shows the artist, John Thamm (of Spokane, WA) building up the structure of a face on a shellacked board using a limited palette of sepia tones like you would have seen in an old photograph. The wet surface allowed him to move around the color and he used a rag to remove color to expose lighter tones that became highlights.

Using a Grisaille, from Leanne Rath Art
Many painters sketch on their canvas first and then create a monochrome underpainting (a grisaille) to define the range of values. Later, they would begin to add color according to the value map they had laid out. In essence, the tangrams are roughing in a shape that your brain can recognize as a familiar 2D shape, much like the underpainting of values allows your brain to interpret the 3D image of a face.

In one of my 3rd-grade classes, we learned to draw gorillas by building up their faces and bodies using sketched shapes and lines. Rather than going directly to drawing the animal, we broke them down into elemental shapes, then outlined them later, once we got the proportions right.

Drawing the body using such methods is similar though less precise than laying out a face.

Whether you start early using tangrams or discover them later in life, they are fun to use as guessing games or challenging puzzles.

And don't be afraid of drawing. While there are plenty of methodology lessons for drawing, the best teacher is practice. So get yourself a sketchbook!

If you enjoyed this topic, please comment. Maybe it will inspire you to try the magnetic blocks as a family activity during this time of self-isolation. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


This post is about cartoonists from comic strips and animated TV shows. Many of these have appeared in newspapers, books, and memorabilia (T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, posters, and souvenirs). Animated shorts often came on screen before a feature film. Nowadays, all we see are ads and other (often violent) movie previews. Cartoons can be violent too but usually presented in a light-hearted way. Watching the comics become animated cartoons was a treat for me growing up. Writing and drawing these strips were often done by a creative team. It's encouraging to see them carried on by family members for future generations to enjoy.

The first cartoon I recall seeing was of my grandparents’ vintage – "The Katzenjammer Kids" (a.k.a. The Captain and the Kids). I recall the ‘twins’ stealing pies off of Mama’s window sill and getting in trouble from the Captain. These black-and-white 'tunes' included rolly-polly, plump characters from the old country. In 1971, they made a comeback alongside “Archie’s TV Funnies”. These animated shorts were first created by Rudolph Dirks in 1897 and later drawn by Harold Knerr.

Andy Capp & Flo

Although I didn’t read Li’l Abner, by Al Capp (born Alfred Gerald Caplin), it was one of the comics my parents were familiar with when they were teenagers in the 1930s (not to be confused with Andy Capp, by English cartoonist, Reg Smythe, who created his characters in the late 1950s).

Blondie (and husband, Dagwood Bumstead) were popular characters created by Chic Young (1930–1973) and his son, Dean Young (1973-present). Feature-length comedic films, starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake,  were also based on these characters.

My Dad and I used to watch James Thurber's animated TV show, My World and Welcome to It (with William Windom). Later, we would traditionally watch Wild, Wild West (with Robert Conrad) and It Takes a Thief (with Robert Wagner).

I learned to love the single-panel comic They’ll Do It Every Time growing up, though the cartoonist, Jimmy Hatlo died in 1963; Al Scaduto took it over until 2008. For some reason, Pogo, by Walt Kelly was one of my Dad’s favorite comic strips to read on Sundays. He loved to read aloud from the newspaper, something my wife does occasionally! My older brother would save Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur by Hal Foster (and others) all year to gift my Dad at Christmas.

I also remember Bil Keane's Family Circus being a single-panel cartoon that appeared in our daily newspaper. Not very funny though! I preferred Hi and Lois by Dik Browne.

I also enjoyed BC (1958) and The Wizard of Id (1964), both of which were created by Johnny Hart (author). Cartoonist, Brant Parker also illustrated Id through 1997, and Hart's daughter, Perri, and grandson, Mason Mastroianni took over after both of the original authors died in April 2007.

Who can forget the Looney Tunes (Merrie Melodies, Warner Bros.) TV cartoons and characters – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig and Petunia, Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Tazmanian Devil, Barnyard Dawg and Chicken Hawk, and Speedy Gonzales? My favorite is Marvin the Martian. A close second is my older brother's favorite, the rooster Foghorn Leghorn, and maybe PepĂ© le Pew. These characters were drawn by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, and Leon Schlesinger, among others.

Bugs' "What's up, Doc?", Speedy's “Arriba, Arriba … Andale, Andale”, and Porky's "That's All Folks!" are unforgettable. I was given the nickname, 'Speedy Gonzales', in 2nd grade because I always finished my math problems first. In college, I somehow collected a set of glass tumblers painted with all the Looney Tunes characters. Not sure what happened to them after I got married!

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera produced one of the most famous cartoon duos, Tom and Jerry, from 1940-1967. The shows aired often on TV, and pretty much every afternoon following my last college class of the day.

I also watched a lot of The Flintstones when I was growing up. I especially enjoyed it when Elroy Jetson built a time machine for the movie, “The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones”. The Flintstones series incorporated lots of pop culture into its episodes – they hired a maid named Lollobrickida (after Gina Lollobrigida), and there was Ann Margrock, Stony Curtis, Ed Sullystone, Alvin (or Alfred) Brickrock, and Rock Quarry. Samantha and Darrin Stephens (from Bewitched) were in a camping episode. Curiously, the Bewitched opening credits were animated by Hanna-Barbera. The Great Gazoo (a tiny alien) was voiced by Harvey Korman. Elizabeth Taylor played Pearl Slaghoople, Wilma’s (Elizabeth Perkins) mother, in the movie version. Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, and Tweety) was the voice of Barney Rubble and Dino the Dinosaur.

For years I faithfully and traditionally watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". I loved the Peanuts characters created by Charles Schulz, and as a teenager, I used to draw Snoopy in various costumes. They were inspired by his alter egos (e.g. the Red Baron).

Jim Davis' Garfield appeared in 1976 as Jon. Funny but lasagna, Garfield's favorite food, was one of the first homemade meals my wife made for me when we were dating.

When I was working, I had several Dilbert-a-day calendars on my desk. Scott Adams was able to capture the personalities of people in an office so well that each character could easily represent someone we worked with.

I had another calendar of Gary Larson Far Side comics; I still use one in my art lesson plans today.

In my recent Illustrators in Literature post, I realize that I was remiss in omitting Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel) of The Cat in the Hat. I loved reading his books to my daughter. I recall ”Oh Say Can You Say” as an especially difficult tongue-twister book that she loved and I grudgingly read to her. Did you know that German-American Seuss was also a political cartoonist during World War II?

Maybe Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury was too intellectual for our family, but I don’t remember getting much out of it. Another editorial cartoonist was German-American caricaturist Thomas Nast, who has been considered the "Father of the American Cartoon".

I missed out on Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, though I later appreciated his Snowmen humor very much!