Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Friday, July 11, 2008

REVENGE OF THE GRAPHIC ARTISTS


My first kindergarten report card noted an extreme inability to compromise with my classmates, and the intervening 45 years have seen little improvement in my skills at playing well with others. As liabilities go, this isn't the worst one an artist can have; few occupations are more solitary. Nowadays, my cardinal peccadillo only seems to crop up when my work goes under the knife of a graphic artist.

Above are four book jackets designed by graphic artists using my artwork. The two "wraparound" designs on the left are the work of Megan Davies, a graphic artist with a strong understanding of composition and color, in addition to a fluid use of her tools. These covers are the sort of uses I enjoy watching my work being put to. Both used existing paintings that weren't intended as book jackets. The painting on Biology of the Boas & Pythons appears in its entirety, while minimal cropping delivered but the slightest indignity to the painting on Rigor Vitae's cover. The original compositions are intact, and the text and overall jacket design serve to complement them. In the upper-right corner is a mock-up for a coffee-table book of my work from Abbeville Press that was never completed. The original painting was flopped and severely cropped, presumably to concentrate the viewer's focus on the subject. Although the composition and feel of the original painting has been mostly lost, the jacket takes on a new, sort of Victorian look that's not altogether unpleasant. Unlike the other three, the painting on the cover of Frank DeCourten's Dinosaurs of Utah was intended as a book cover, and I left the graphic artists plenty of room to crop and add text.
Designing artwork by committee can give the artist the unusual pleasure of working with alien inspiration. In 1994 I designed a dust jacket for Brian Kend's Pythons of Australia. The subject was to be a Bearded Dragon (Pogona viticeps) being constricted by a Black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus). When I submitted my first rough sketch (above) to the publisher, he suggested a horizontal "wraparound" composition, an idea that would likely not have occurred to me. The ultimate design (below) was vastly improved by his advice. While designing the composition, I made sure that the right half of the painting would work in isolation, while the whole and the narrow, central spine (which features Australian red sand, gum trees, a kangaroo and python skin) work as well.
I also composed the painting on Dan Beck's Biology of Gila Monsters and Beaded Lizards (below) specifically for this purpose, working closely with the author. As usual, plenty of room was left for cropping, and the lower 1/8th of the piece was removed. Unfortunately, the graphic artist saw fit here to alter the painting as well, something that always rubs me the wrong way. Evidently, the depth portrayed in my original wasn't exaggerated enough for his liking, so the contrast was manipulated in the area behind the lizard's snout. For some reason, the treatment wasn't applied uniformly, with the result that the distant rock doesn't quite appear to be on a consistent plane. The change was subtle, but served only to lessen the visual impact. Below is an example of graphic artists using my work as elements with which to create something wholly new. Five of my illustrations (and pieces of others) from Dinosaurs of Utah were used for signage in the visitor's center of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, with rather happy results.More often than not, though, I cringe at composites made from my work. Digital manipulation of art is so easy and versatile that graphic artists seem to feel like they're not doing their job unless they use some of those tools. The result is not usually good. Below is a particularly hideous wallpaper border made by chopping up and spitting out a series of frog portraits I painted in the late '90s.Greeting card companies are among the most egregious offenders. Sometimes I try to imagine the thought process that inspires their misdeeds.While flipping through images sent by art publishing houses, I picture a bored employee stopping at my Horsfield's Tarsier & Asian Frilled Gecko (above, left). "Here's an animal with big eyes. That's good. Too bad about the dark background - not very happy. We can fix it, though: zoom in a bit on the subjects and replace that macabre nighttime with an attractive marbled pattern." The new, improved image is on the right.My painting of an African Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus - above, left) got the treatment as well: "Owls are popular. We'll have to drop out that background, though - why does this guy keep painting nocturnal animals at night? - let's use the purple marbling this time. We can draw in some sweet little twinkling stars - those big ones he put in have to go - makes the crescent moon look too Islamic. We'll cut it down to a decent size, so you can focus on the owl, and just paste the moon onto the new background. Does the shadow on the moon look a little dark to you? No? Great, let's send it to the printers."

16 Comments:

Blogger coturnix said...

I still like my banner the best ;-)

5:41 PM  
Blogger cpbvk said...

Thanks, Bora. That;s good to hear.

12:58 PM  
Blogger liza myers said...

So were these stolen from your website and then published? How did they get to use them?
And how the heck are you?

10:18 AM  
Blogger cpbvk said...

Hi Liza. No, the cards were designed legitimately by a company through a licensing agreement with my publisher. I vetoed these designs, neither of which were followed up by second efforts.
And I'm doing great, thanks. How are you?

1:57 PM  
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