Tag Archives: Violet Lemay

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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Artists and Their Pets

18 Aug

Artists-and-Their-Pets

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I’m excited to announce the imminent release of a wonderful new book, Artists and Their Pets—written by Susie Hodge, with illustrations by Yours Truly, Violet Lemay. The book is full of fascinating stories. In light of recent world events, I thought I’d share one in particular.

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Matisse, Picasso, and The Dove of Peace

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Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, two of the twenty artists featured in Artists and Their Pets, had a lot in common. Friends and rivals, they both loved animals and kept pigeons and doves. Toward the end of his life when Matisse was ill, he entrusted Picasso to look after his fancy pet pigeons. Here is a snippet of the story from Artists and Their Pets:

Matisse-sample

There wasn’t room in Artists and Their Pets for this part of the story:

peace dove*

Picasso’s lithograph “La Colombe” (The Dove)—which was actually a rendering of a pigeon—was used on a poster commemorating the Peace Conference in Paris in 1949. The poster was plastered everywhere, making Picasso’s dove famous, and linking his art with the cause of peace.

Picasso continued drawing doves, stylizing and simplifying the form of the bird as he went.

 

I originally had the pleasure of illustrating Picasso and his doves for Mauricio Velázquez de León’s 2014 picture book 100 Pablo Picassos—a lovely and creative biography of Picasso for small children. Here is a sketch…hands y dove… and a peek at how the whole thing came together.

peace

In response to the recent terror attack in Barcelona, duopress—publisher of Artists and Their Pets and 100 Pablo Picassos—posted a snapshot of these pages on Instagram today, along with these words: Picasso’s simple drawing of a dove became a symbol of peace in 1945. #picasso would be shocked by the attacks in #barcelona, a city he loved. This image from our book #100pablopicassos is our message of #peace to all the victims of yesterday coward attack and all the citizens of #spain  #love  #noviolence #stopterrorism #nomoreviolence

Well said.

Wishing you all peace, joy, love… and art. ❤

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Click here to pre-order Artists and Their Pets (available everywhere September 15, 2017)

Click here to order 100 Pablo Picassos (available everywhere books are sold)

behind the scenes of “BABIES AROUND THE WORLD”

28 May

Recently, duopress released Babies Around the World — a 20-page board book written by Puck, designed by Beatriz Juarez, and illustrated by moi, Violet Lemay.

We opted for a collage look for the book, which was a fun departure from my watercolor paintbox. A new iPad Pro gave me my first-ever access to digital brushes. Babies Around the World was my pioneer attempt at creating images without using any traditional media… with a few special exceptions!

Working Digitally

After adding an iPad Pro and Apple pencil to my studio, setting up my new digital workspace was easy. All I had to do was purchase and download two genius, easy-to-use tech products:

  1.  Astropad, an app that converts the iPad Pro into a tablet by reflecting your computer monitor
  2. digital brushes from Kyle T. Webster

Setting everything up was easy. I’ve used Photoshop to adjust and manipulate scans of my paintings for eons, so the only new skill I had to acquire was loading brushes. It took me a little while to get used to Astropad and to decide which of Kyle’s plethora of cool brushes to use, but that is to be expected. Both suppliers—Team Astropad and Kyle T. Webster—were super nice and offered great support. (By the way, besides designing brushes for Photoshop, Kyle is also a terrific illustrator. Check out his portfolio here.)

The Few Special Exceptions to My New Digital Process

My son Graham and I have always used his school breaks as opportunities for mother-son artistic collaborations. His work has made its way into several books I’ve illustrated, including NY Dogs, a gift book that I wrote and illustrated for punchline shortly before acquiring the iPad. Graham contributed a hand-drawn map to NY Dogs, for which he is credited in a splashy way at the end of the book (see previous post).

Here is his drawing, and how I incorporated it into NY Dogs.

Last summer, because of his special interest in architecture, I gave Graham the assignment of drawing various structures from the cities featured in Babies Around the World.

Some are quite famous, like the San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, but others are more obscure… because Graham appreciates buildings that most of us have never heard of. That’s my boy.

Here are some of the drawings that Graham contributed to Babies Around the World, along with the final images so you can see the end result.

Graham is a traditionalist—his drawings are made with Micron pens on printer paper, which I scanned and collaged into my illustrations.

Because Babies Around the World is a board book with very few pages, all of the fine print—including Graham’s credit—is on the back cover.

The Re-Cap

1) Astropad and Kyle T. Webster’s brushes have revolutionized my illustration process, and are aiding my effort to save the planet. Previously I went through at least a ream of paper every time I illustrated a book—as shown in this photo of my file from NY Dogs. #recommend! Click their names above to be redirected to their websites.

2) Working with Graham is simply the best! As I write this post, my son is fifteen years old. We’ve been collaborating since he was six or seven, and I hope we never stop. All this time he’s been wild about buildings, and has been contributing tech drawings of his favorites at a cool website called skyscraperpage.com. He has posted over 4oo buildings to date—check out his drawings by clicking here! But please don’t tell him that I sent you. No inter-family tagging allowed. 🙂

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BATW 3D cover + globe

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Click here to order Babies Around the World, written by Puck and illustrated by Violet Lemay (with a little help from her son Graham… who drew the front cover globe!)

published by duopress / distributed by Workman Publishing / 2017

NOOK: A String of Lovely Surprises

15 Jan

When Duopress called and asked me to narrate Nook books, I was completely surprised. You just never know what life will bring. Lovely Surprise # 1: “The Invitation.”

Zenkel Practice RoomA Yeti microphone arrived at my door and I got busy talking into it, and learning how to use Garage Band, Apple’s recording/editing software. Sitting in my home office, I made some sample recordings. The result was disappointing. It sounded as if I were reading children’s books from the bottom of a well… or, perhaps, near a construction site. The underlying hum was unacceptable. Lovely Surprise #2: “The Echo.”

My hero-husband (a new hire at Skidmore College) presented my dilemma to Professor Joel Brown, chair of the Music Department. Via e-mail, Joel invited me to use a practice room on campus. Lovely Surprise #3: “Northern Hospitality” (or, “Padded Room for M’Lady”).

As soon as I got everything set up on the piano of the elegant, acoustically superior practice room at Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center, the campus ground crew’s Annual Leaf Obliteration Campaign started up outside, directly below the window. Perfect. Imagine the hum from my un-padded studio at home, times about a thousand. I called Duopress and offered to rush outside and whack them with my purse old-lady style, but my friend Mauricio talked me down. (“Please don’t do that, Violet.”) We decided to opt for patience. Lovely Surprise #4: “The Industrial Leaf Blower.” 

Joel BrownSeveral weeks after the recordings were finally wrapped up and safely in the hands of Duopress, my hero-husband took our family to Beatlemore Skidmania, a musical event at the Zankel, in which a variety of music students (solo artists and groups) performed Beatles songs. What. A. Delight. The final band to take the stage was comprised of profs from the music department—including, as it turned out, the esteemed Professor Joel Brown! His performance of Rocky Raccoon on the electric guitar was, well… electrifying. Especially for me, the old lady in the third row who was not only enjoying the music but also putting a face to the name. That’s him, on the left. Lovely Surprise #5: “Joel Brown, Literal Rock Star.”

Yesterday, Duopress called to tell me that the audio books are finally available. So there you have it, Class. Lovely Surprise #6: “Nook Books, Narrated by Violet Lemay.”

The moral of the story? Persevere! When you expect good things to happen, they will… and you’ll probably get to meet some really cool people along the way.

p.s. Again, Joel… Thank you!

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Now available from Duopress at Barnes and Noble for the Nook:

3 covers

New York Baby (by Puck, illustrated and narrated by Violet Lemay); 123 Beach, A Cool Counting Book (by Puck; illustrated by Rey David Rojas, narrated by Violet Lemay; and My Foodie ABC, A Little Gourmet’s Guide (by Puck, illustrated by Violet Lemay).