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Master Spotlight – James Kochalka

James Kochalka is an influential American comic book artist and a rock musician. His comics blend fantasy details into autobiographical scenes and stories. His most ambitious project is an ongoing comic strip diary, American Elf.

James grew up in Springfield, Vermont. He earned an MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute, College of Art. He spent six years working in a Chinese restaurant before quitting his job to create comics and music. He documented the story in one of his first graphic novels, Quit Your Job.

In comics, Kochalka draws himself as a long-eared elf, sometimes named “Magic Boy.” Other recurring characters include his wife, Amy; their sons, Eli and Oliver; their cats, Spandy and Nooko; and his bandmate, Jason Cooley, drawn as a Snoopy-like dog. Since 1998, the cartoonist has recorded their adventures in a daily comic strip diary, American Elf. The cartoons can be read online or in a series of collected books published by Top Shelf.

Kochalka’s comics are characterized by bright color, fantasy elements, and simplicity. He believes strongly that simplicity is desirable in comics, and he has debated cartoonists who disagree with him. His “Craft is the Enemy” essays were collected into his 2005 book, The Cute Manifesto.

Kochalka’s other artwork include graphic novels, children’s books, cartoons, and video games. He has created comics for Marvel Comics, Nickelodeon, and Star Wars. His children book characters include Eisner Award-winning Dragon Puncher, a dragon fighting cat; Johnny Boo, a kid ghost; Pinky & Stinky, spacefaring pigs; and more. His superhero cartoon, Superf*ckers, is in production now. And he is collaborating with Pixel Jam to create a Glorkian Warrior video game.

In addition to these endeavors, James Kochalka is the lead singer of a rock and roll band called James Kochalka Superstar. He also teaches comics at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. It may be premature to called him a comics master, but he has already earned Ignatz, Harvey, and Eisner awards; he continues to apply his skills to new mediums, new genres, and new ideas; and he is an outspoken voice in the comics industry.

In 2011, James Kochalka was named the cartoonist laureate of Vermont. He lives in Burlington with his wife and kids. You can follow his work online at Americanelf.com.

My students are still studying Shepard Fairey in school. So, this month is my chance to mention any artist that I really like. I have enjoyed James Kochalka’s work since I discovered it in college. It is fun and inspiring. My appreciation grows as I get older though. His autobiographical comics are so candid that they frequently tackle big subjects like parenthood, aging, anger, and death. Read from beginning to end, his diary strips reveal a rhythm to daily life that’s comforting and truly beautiful.

Portrait of James Kochalka by yours truly, Rama Hughes

American Elf comic strip by James Kochalka

Posted by rama on 09/02/12 under Uncategorized
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Win This Shirt!

Click HERE to visit Threadless.com. Give the design a 5. Leave a comment at the bottom of the Threadless page. When the shirt is made, your comment will enter you in a drawing to win the shirt!

Posted by rama on 08/09/12 under Uncategorized
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VIDEO: Goat Mail by Hiroko Matsushita

music by Hiroko Arakaki

I found this to be very, very charming. :)

Hiroko is a visual artist, illustrator and designer. She uses paper as her main medium. She has been inspired by paper-engineering skills such as folding, cutting-out and layering that are primitive but creative techniques. A flat sheet of paper can be transformed in an instant into figures that expand into space, thus paper is a very malleable and imaginative material for her.

Find more of her work: Website | Blog

Posted by Thomas James on 07/25/12 under Uncategorized
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Master Spotlight – Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was an important figurative painter from Austria. His paintings of people are known for their contorted, expressive poses. The most famous ones include Seated Woman with a Bent Knee and any of the many self-portraits that he created.

Schiele’s teachers recognized his talent at an early age. His uncle, who cared for Egon, sent him to Kunstgewerbeschule, the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, where Gustav Klimt studied art. Within a year, Egon’s teachers sent him to the more rigorous Akademie der Bildenden Kunste. He studied painting and drawing there, but was frustrated by the school’s old-fashioned approach.

Gustav Klimt took a special interest in Egon. The older artist mentored Schiele, bought his drawings, and introduced him to models and patrons. With his help, Egon had his first art shows. At the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, he discovered and was inspired by the paintings of Edvward Munch and Vincent Van Gogh.

He left school that year to found the Neukunstgruppe, the New Art Group, with some other dissatisfied classmates. Free to pursue their own interests, Egon painted landscapes, still-lifes, and “tributes to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.” But he was best know for his studies of the human form. His paintings of people focused on sexuality, death, and self-discovery.

Critics called Schiele’s artwork grotesque, pornographic, and disturbing. To escape the “claustrophobic Viennese milieu,” Egon moved to Krumau, a small town in southern Bohemia. The residents disapproved of Schiele’s life style though, and they ran him out of town for hiring teenage girls to model for his paintings.

Schiele moved next to Neulengbach. His studio became a gathering place for delinquent children. His neighbors were angered by his way of life. They accused him of kidnapping and he was arrested for seducing a young girl. A judge dropped those charges, but he found the artist guilty of “exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children.” In court, the judge burned one of Egon’s drawings over a candle flame. While in jail, Schiele created 12 paintings depicting the discomfort of a prison.

Soon after, Egon moved to the Viennese suburb where he met his future wife, Edith. Three days after their wedding, he was drafted into World War I. The officers respected his artistic talent. He never saw any fighting, and he was allowed to paint and draw while guarding prisoners of war.

When he returned from war, Schiele’s work “reflected the maturity of an artist in full command of his talents.” Fifty of his pieces were accepted for the Secession’s 49th exhibition in Vienna. He designed a poster for the show, and was offered his own exhibitions in Zurich, Prague, and Dresden. Thanks to their success, the price for Egon’s work increased and he received many requests for portraits.

Later that year though, the Spanish flu reached Vienna. It killed Edith Schiele when she was six months pregnant. Egon died three days later. His final works were sketches of his wife.

The Egon Schiele Museum is located in Tulln, Austria where Schiele was born. A more complete collection of his paintings can be seen in the Leopold Museum, Vienna. There is even a Schiele museum in Krumau, the small Bohemian city where Egon was run out of town. You can see his work and learn more about him at egon-schiele.net.

I saved this master of the month for summer time because I don’t think he’d pass muster with my K-8 school’s administration. In college though, Egon Schiele was a formative inspiration to me and my classmates. In my freshman sketchbooks, you can find pages and pages of pulled faces, contortionist poses, and Schiele-style self-portraits. Even now as a college visitor, I can’t count how many art students adopt Schiele’s style for a semester or more. His work is perfectly suited to the figure studies and exploration that go hand-in-hand in art school.

Portrait of Egon Schiele drawn by yours truly, Rama Hughes.

Posted by rama on 07/05/12 under master of the month,Uncategorized
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