Tag Archives: collaboration

The Art/Music Connection: Part I

16 Sep

gallery girl

I love stories about creative people. Learning the details behind a specific artistic inspiration or collaboration always makes my heart beat a little faster. Yes, I am an art nerd, but I’m not exclusive; tales involving serendipty are also a personal favorite. Lately a story including all of these juicy elements has been unfolding around me. The story is too long for a single blog post, so I’ve broken it in half. Welcome to Part 1.

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Klee, Kandinsky, and Music: 1920

While illustrating Susie Hodge’s new book Artists and Their Pets, I learned a lot of cool art history trivia. For example, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were friends and colleagues who had a lot in common. Along with their wives—and cats!—they lived at the Bauhaus at the same time.

bauhaus catsKlee’s cat Bimbo and Kandinsky’s cat Vaske used to study each other from across the Bauhaus campus courtyard, looking through their apartment windows.

Paul Klee

Klee and Kandinsky had music in common, too. Klee (shown above) was a violinist. As for Kandinsky (below): he could see music!

Kandinsky

In Artists and Their Pets, Susie Hodge wrote:

Kandinsky had a condition called synesthesia. This meant that he saw colors in his mind when he heard music and other sounds.

Not everyone believes that synesthesia is a thing—but really, does it matter? Kandinsky interpreted sounds on canvas as he saw them in his mind, and his work looks like music. The world owes him a debt of gratitude for opening the door to abstract art. I personally am also grateful to Susie Hodge and duopress, publisher of Artists and Their Pets, for teaching me about Klee, Kandinsky, and the eighteen other artists featured in the book.

Note: this story about Kandinsky’s synesthesia was brand new to me. I just learned it. Seriously.

Professor Violet: 1998

Way back in 1998, I was about to teach my first-ever university art course: 2D Design, a required foundational class. In a nutshell, 2D Design teaches artists how to use color, value, pattern, shape, placement, line, etc. to move the viewer’s eye around a two-dimensional composition, hopefully moving emotions in the process.

Twenty seats were filled with incoming art students who had recently arrived from all over the world. EPSON scanner imageSoon they’d begin dying their hair and piercing body parts, but in those first weeks of the fall term, they looked clean cut and bashful—except for a one or two young goths, who were ahead of the game. 😉

nervousTheir interests ranged from sound design to historic preservation of architecture. Of course, the more typical art majors were also represented: painters, illustrators, fashion and graphic designers, etc. A broad range, some of whom had no interest at all in drawing. Or 2D design. They were there to fulfil a schedule requirement, not because they  were interested in the subject. In fact, some were openly annoyed to be there. And I was completely new to teaching. It was terrifying.

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Imagine a World Without Pinterest

If the internet existed in 1998, I hadn’t found it. Google wasn’t available as a teaching resource. My colleagues were very generous with their lesson plans, but like any creative person, I had some ideas of my own that I wanted to try out. I concocted tons of homework and in-class assignments that term, but I only remember one. And it involved music.

Professor Violet’s Introduction to LINE

LINE

On LINE Day I arrived on campus armed with my husband’s boom box, a stack of CDs, and a giant box of art supplies. The students trickled in to find me organizing an array of line-making tools on the big teaching desk at the front of the classroom. Markers, every imaginable type of charcoal, brushes with pots of ink and tubes of paint, colored pencils, graphite, pastels, etc. were arranged in tidy rows.line-making toolsHanding out sheets of paper, I explained:

We will be listening to music today. Every song will make you feel a certain way. Get a sense of the mood, and then grab a tool and make a line that match the mood. Let the music inspire the line.

For the next several hours the classroom was filled in turns with classical piano, discordant jazz, opera and elevator muzak. Mimi’s aria from La Bohemme raised the industrial ceiling tiles. We listened to Phillip Glass, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ella Fitzgerald, The Talking Heads, Patsy Cline… and interpreted every song by making lines on paper.measure

michaelI was nervous. At first they all just sat there. I paced. But then, little by little, they started drawing. A gentle young sound designer from somewhere in the south—or maybe he was from California—met my eyes with a smile. His name was Michael. He had crazy long curly hair, and antique glasses. “I never knew something as simple as a line could be so expressive,” he said. And my heart melted, and I stopped pacing. Mission accomplished.

Using music as an inspiration for art is a fairly obvious prompt. Probably millions of art teachers have employed a similar technique! I don’t mean to suggest personal greatness in teaching. No way, never. It’s just that this story, which is one of my fondest professorial memories, came to mind when I learned about the bond between Klee, Kandinsky, and music… and as mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is more to this story! When you read the rest, it will all come together.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (spoiler: it involves composer Modest Mussorgsky, my son, and another drawing prompt). In the mean time: Happy reading, happy learning, happy drawing!

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Artists-and-Their-Pets*

To order a copy of Artists and Their Pets, click here!

Artists and Their Pets was written by Susie Hodge and illustrated by Violet Lemay for duopress in 2017, and is distributed by Workman Publishing.

All illustration in this post was created by me, Violet Lemay. Please do not use without permission. 🙂

 

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collaborate

26 May

ISS_Cover

A while back, after having made several books together, my publisher friend Mauricio Velázquez de León (owner of duporess) invited me to a Skype lunch. While he sat at an outdoor cafe somewhere in Baltimore with a tasty-looking sandwich, I ate a salad in a Savannah Panera, and we talked about this and that.

Before he let me go, he asked what made me tick, artistically—a very interesting question that threw me off guard, and really made me think. I love to draw cities, and kids, and animals…. but if there was one thing we weren’t already doing that made my artist’s heart sing, it had to be SHOES.

During the rest of that Skype lunch and for a long while after, we talked about shoes, and how to make them into a book. We shot ideas back and forth leisurely for quite a while (one year? two??), and then somehow or other “The Shoe Book” made it onto a tentative production schedule. We were actually gonna do it. So, I had to write it.

love_lossNow, I’m not a writer, I am an illustrator, but I can string a few words together in a pinch. With a vague idea in my head based on the amazing classic Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a book I had read years earlier, I spent a week or two typing up a charming little manuscript. Mauricio called the draft “lovely” or something to that effect, and, despite my bent toward self-deprication, I agreed with him. It was a lovely manuscript. (In keeping with my amateur writer status, it was largely auto-biographical—so predictable!) But it wasn’t a book for duopress. Not yet. After thinking about it for a while, he came back with suggestions.

Duopress publishes innovative books for curious children. “The Shoe Book” had to be an innovative. Maybe even interactive. My original manuscript was very nice, but there was nothing innovative about it.

I started over, converting the words into an activity book. Letting go of my original approach wasn’t easy, but I trusted Mauricio and forged ahead, trying to combine his ideas and requirements for the project with my initial inspiration. The result was more than a manuscript for an activity book, because it had a voice: there was a story, told by a little girl. Her name changed a few times but eventually became Isabella. Page by page Isa shared not only her love of shoes, but her obvious love for her family and friends, and for the process of design.

“The Shoe Book” was becoming not only innovative, but special!

partySCANWith a working manuscript I made some art samples, including this painting. Although this watercolor didn’t come close to making it into the book, it helped me find the look of the book. Just part of the process.

Mauricio and I went back and forth revising the manuscript too many times to count, making changes even as I was up to my elbows in ink chasing that drop-dead-absolutely-final art deadline. It had to happen that way, because the book was innovative—something totally new and different—and every spread generated more creative ideas. Input from duopress’s copy editor, distributor, family friends, and our beloved designer Charla Pettingill also helped form the final product.

The result: Isabella’s Shoe Studio, which will be available this fall. We will be promoting the book this weekend at Book Expo America.

My name is on the cover, but Isabella’s Shoe Studio was most definitely a group effort, a true collaboration. The project evolved,  and we rolled with it. What a pleasure.

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The story about how this doodle storybook came to life has two morals:

First, for publishers: Get to know your team and encourage them to explore their passions. You’ll be glad you did. (It may interest you to know that Mauricio only owns 3 pairs of shoes, and two are exactly the same! If he hadn’t asked what made me tick, it’s doubtful that duopress would have a shoe book on the horizon.)

Second, for my fellow artists: Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Good ideas can always be improved, and they may die if they aren’t allowed to be shaped by smart people who are in the position to do something with them.

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It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough!

Ecclesiastes 4:10, from The Message by Eugene Peterson