Friday, January 25, 2008

The "Other" Field Guide to Birds

I am speaking, of course, of the National Wildlife Federation field guide to birds of North America, by Edward S. Brinkley. Published in May 2007 and touted on the back cover as “The most up-to-date all-photographic field guide,” this book seems to have been virtually ignored by bird (and virtually all other) bloggers. That is a shame, as I find it to be an incredibly well-designed and quite useful guide, much more so than other photo-based guides such as those by Ken Kaufmann and Don and Lillian Stokes. More than 750 species are illustrated with 2,100 full-color photographs (an average of nearly 3/species). Each photograph is enhanced with captions highlighting important field marks. Four-color range maps are provided for 600 species. In my opinion, this book should be a mandatory addition to every North American birder’s collection of field guides.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Backyard Birding

Having recently purchased a new home near Buchanan, Michigan, I was anxious to scope out the birdlife in my new backyard. That opportunity came earlier this month when I spent my first weekend there January 4-7. Situated as it is on the shores of Crescent Lake and surrounded by an abundance of natural habitats, I am excited about the possibility of a robust yard list. The first task of the weekend was to set up a variety of seed and suet feeders, which were mostly in place by Saturday.

January 4th brought two species to the yard: Dark-eyed Junco (#1) and Northern Cardinal (#2). The next day brought five new species: Canada Goose in flight over the lake (#3), Ring-billed Gull over the lake enroute to the Southeast Berrien County Sanitary Landfill (#4), Blue Jay (#5), American Goldfinch (#6), and American Crow (#7). On Sunday the 6th, six new species were recorded (all at the feeders): Black-capped Chickadee (#8), Tufted Titmouse (#9), American Tree Sparrow (#10), House Finch (#11), Red-breasted Nuthatch (#12), and Pine Siskin (#13). Great Blue Heron (#14), Downy Woodpecker (#15), and Cooper’s Hawk (#16) were seen in/from the yard on the 7th, and a small group of Mallards was observed on foot at the south end of the lake.

As of January 7, my 2008 Buchanan yard list stands at 16 species, my Walking BiGBY (Big Green Big Year) list at 17 species, following 4 days of incidental birding.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Scrambled Ink book-coming in summer '08

Dave Pimentel and JJ Villard after our group trek to the Comic Con last summer.You couldn't find a better bunch of traveling companions.

An early rough splash page we put together for the book--this isn't the design, nothing here is final(especially color)-very, very early; this version also doesn't yet include the name of Keith Baxter; left column top to bottom is Ken, Dave D. and JJ; on the right is Dave P., me and Ennio

This blog is usually reserved for touting animation-related doings other than my own, but I'd like to give a heads up on a group project that six of us(all story artists working on the same crew, save JJ who was in visdev)hatched 18 months ago after visiting ComicCon '06 and being mightily inspired with the artists' books that were beginning to appear in ever-increasing numbers.

Since every one of us independently had thoughts of doing a sketchbook and had started exploring the various self-publishing options we decided to do one book together and split the expense. Eventually the book of sketches became a book of stories--one we still planned to do ourselves--but several months after that the founder of comics/book/entertainment company Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, came to Dreamworks to give a talk that most of us attended. A particularly intrepid soul among us approached Mike and pitched him our book. He liked it, we sent a rough dummy--and contracts were signed.
Our self-publishing venture had changed into a real publishing deal with a real editor, Diana Schutz(who's edited for and worked with Will Eisner and Frank Miller among others, ye gods!).
So in time for the ComicCon of 2008, our book "Scrambled Ink" will be out this summer in hardcover.

I'm in the company of a great group of guys with individual points of view: Dave Derrick, Dave Pimentel, Ennio Torresan, Ken Morrissey(who eventually brought Keith Baxter on board to write the prose for his story) and last but never least the inimitable JJ Villard. We did stories from 'the back of our brains'(as Ernie Kovacs might say) and ones we had had percolating for a while on the front burner, too. They're all quite different from each other--hence the "scrambled" title--which at one time we imagined might have a vintage menu look for the the table of contents, (as can be somewhat gleaned from the old page above). It's not like that now--there's not a retro diner menu design in it--but it's still a melange, that's for sure.

Dave Pimentel drew Ennio Torresan, me, and David Derrick taking a break last spring; I'm wondering why I am pictured drawing with a big smile, though. Given the date I'd probably just made reservations for Paris-that kept me smiling for two months-before and after.

They're all good friends as well as great coworkers and my life would be so much more dull without them. It's a hackneyed phrase but true: I'm honored to be in their company. I think--I hope--that our combined stories will appeal. It's great of Dark Horse, Mike and Diana to help us get it out there.

Coming soon!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco hosts Mary Blair(among others)

I'd heard about the Cartoon Art Museum for years but was only recently able to pay a quick visit. Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco, it's a relatively small space packed with rare and beautiful art for the eyes to feast upon. Two of its current shows feature Mary Blair and Edward Gorey-in the latter's case, all to do with his designs for the stage play "Dracula" in the late 70s.

First, the Blair show:

Ten years ago a now-defunct animation store/gallery hosted what I think was the first major show of Blair artwork, and to my knowlege this is only the second. It's not quite as vast an array as that earlier show but it's certainly a must-see. Everything is great, and offers an opportunity to learn something. All of us have seen Mary Blair's work reproduced and posted over and over again, but as with all art nothing beats seeing the originals. Most of what's on display appears courtesy of Mary's son Kevin, but Pete Docter loaned some beautiful pieces from his collection as well.

an early watercolor, an unusual Blair given what we're used to thinking of when we think of her paintings, possibly done while a student at Chouinard

Even better-and much larger-in person than the Golden Book we all know

Quite without planning to I took some pictures with my iphone. I post a selection here very aware that the image quality is poor, and that's intentional. I wouldn't want to reproduce things that are privately owned or that could possibly be used in any commercial way. This is just by way of seducing any and all of you to get up (or down or west) to San Francisco and visit the artwork yourselves if you possibly can.

a later, non-Disney advert for cigarettes; gouache

There's always a lot of talk about the obvious influence of Mary Blair on artists today--so much so, in fact, that it's led in some circles to a bit of a backlash towards her or towards the stylings of artists who've been inspired by her. But when you see these up close and without the filters of photography(either the still camera's or the animation stand's)or the limitations of the published page, even now they leap out at the viewer and are as new and fresh as they must have been half a century ago. To see her technique up close is to appreciate how incredibly skilled she was. Intuitive, surely; imaginative and whimsical, yes--but also plain, keen, brilliant, diamond-hard thinking going on. It's still a big wow.

As for her impact on the current generation of artists, well, everyone's influenced by something, and a good number are influenced by everything. Blair casts a huge and prodigious shadow, and just as the Brandywine school founded by Howard Pyle a hundred years ago resulted in men and women who absorbed and adapted his theories and style into their own eventual identities, so it is with giants such as Mary Blair. In short--there's much worse to be inspired by, and I can't think of anything but good coming from learning at the feet of a master. Individual style and approach always will out eventually, anyway--and the metamorphosis is fascinating to be able to see.

In the notes that accompany the paintings on the wall the admission is made that there was some difficulty, something of a tough fit for Mary's art in the medium of Disney's animated features and shorts. Most of us have read the quotes about that, and with our love and reverence for the more constructed, dimensional aspects of Disney's character animation we can try to understand, even empathize with the animators who'd be frustrated when told by Walt to "get this stuff up on the screen".

But just as with those visual development artists working today whose work is at first glance as far from the final effect of CG animation as is imaginable, it seems impossible to me that any artist, any filmmaker wouldn't be inspired simply by absorbing the spirit of images like these--not to mention the color, the mood, the storytelling that's there. I guess I can't really understand the resistance to any of Blair's work back then--it's so obviously grounded in solid, three-dimensional knowlege--and proves how far an expert can take representational design--of animals, of humans--and push it while keeping it coherent and visually appealing. Yet resistance did exist. John Canemaker offers some ideas about why this might have been so in his singular book, whose title is shared with this exhibit.

There's much more to see in the rest of the Museum's space, including these gems:

A story sketch from Dumbo

A beautiful watercolor spot cartoon by Eldon Dedini

A 1920s single-panel comic from a woman named Gladys Parker

Many of us own books containing fine examples of work by Schulz and Herriman, Gorey and Ketcham,et al but to see these originals so much larger than their reproduced size with their underdrawing apparent, or the marks of an ink nib on illustration board or paper...I said it before but it bears repeating: it's an education in itself. And a rare privilege to get the opportunity--for only six dollars, if you can get to San Francisco.

Even if you can't make the Blair show before it closes on March 18th you should make sure to pay a visit to 655 Mission Street anyway.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Year-in-Review: 2007

I posted a 2006 Year-in-Review that I picked up as a meme. I found it to be so much fun and so interesting that I’m repeating the exercise this year.

The rules are simple: go to your monthly archives and post the first sentence of the first post of each month of the preceding calendar year. To eliminate redundancy, I violate this rule by listing the second entry posted in two months (August and December).

January: Hundreds, if not thousands, of species of birds have been featured on untold numbers of postage stamps issued by countries around the world. (more)

February: An excerpt from this article in the San Francisco Chronicle. (more)

March: The fatal (to the bird) impact occurs at about the 8-second mark on this video. (more)

April: Introduction: A daily (or as often as I can find time to compile it) feature that highlights recent entries from North American bird blogs listed in my blogroll; also see here. (more)

May: Frank Gill and Mintern Minturn Wright’s Birds of the world: recommended English names (2006), produced on behalf of the International Ornithological Committee “to promote the use of a standard set of English names of the birds of the world,” is available in an online version. (more)

June: Lord God Bird is a colloquial name that has been widely applied to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) since the ‘rediscovery’ was announced in 2005, even though there is evidence that the name was historically restricted to the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) (see here and here), or, perhaps more likely, applied indiscriminately to both species (see here). (more)

July: An eclectic weekly collection of recent posts about birds, birders, and birding by bloggers throughout the blogosphere—but mostly from sources other than the mainstream bird blogs—that illustrates the universal appeal and attraction of our feathered neighbors, personally selected by me for your reading and viewing pleasure. (more)

August (2): In the aftermath of the Minnesota bridge collapse, this AP article raises questions about the possible effect that the accumulated dung from Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) might have on the structural integrity of bridges across the country. (more)

September: [No posts]

October: [No posts]

November: I guess it was only a matter of time before someone jumped on the matchmaking bandwagon and tailored a Web site to appeal exclusively to a special-interest group as narrowly focused as birding. (more)

December (2): Let me say right up front that I have no problem with pet cats (Felis domesticus) and the people who own and care for them; I was once a cat owner myself. (more)

Summary: In retrospect, my 2007 blogging year started out red-hot with 237 entries the first six months (40/month), but ended decidedly cool or at best luke-warm with just 26 entries the last six months (4/month), including an 89-day stretch in which nothing was posted. Ah, the vagaries of blogging. What’s in store for 2008, I wonder?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Complete Chicken: A Book Review

I’ve always looked askance at the Domestic Chicken (Gallus domesticus) and it's evolutionary progenitor (G. gallus), as if they were not worthy of being considered real birds. All of that changed when I ran across The complete chicken: an entertaining history of chickens, by Pam Percy. The author, an avowed chicken afficionado, presents the lowly chicken in a brand new light in this entertaining book.

Following a brief introduction, Percy reviews “Chicken history: which, when, and where” (Chapter 1), including development of the chicken industry. This is followed by descriptions of the various and sundry breeds of chickens in “Real chickens” (Chapter 2). She then takes the reader on a delightful tour of the role of chickens in human culture, including “The artful chicken” in art, literature, and music through the ages (Chapter 3); “Famous clucks” in entertainment of all sorts (Chapter 4); and the “Household chickens” memorabilia with which we decorate our homes (Chapter 5). Finally, there is “A chicken dictionary and other chicken tidbits” (Chapter 6). The book is lavishly enlivened throughout with an abundance of color and black-and-white illustrations.

I found this book to be highly readable, visually appealing, entertaining, and educational. What more could you want in a book?