Monday, May 15, 2017

Muddy: Behind the Art


I'm so excited about the upcoming release of the next book I worked on, Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, written by Michael Mahin! It won't be available until September 5, but here's a sneak preview and a little "behind the scenes" about the creation of the art for the book.

Research drawing from Clarksdale, Mississippi

With every new book comes a new research process! You can read more about the research for this book in two blog posts I wrote last year about my trips to the Mississippi Delta, where Muddy was born, and Chicago, where Muddy created his signature sound.


Research drawing from Chicago
 
Another part of my research is always to look at artwork to help create a visual style and language that is specific to the topic and the story. Whenever I do school visits (more info here), I like to talk to kids about this step. I hope that it will inspire them to take a look at artists and art they may not have known before.


For this project, I was very excited to get to take a deeper look at some of my favorite artists, including Ben Shahn, Matisse, Picasso, and particularly Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and William H. Johnson.



I also looked at quilts by the Gee's Bend Quiltmakers of Alabama, a group of African American women who have been creating unique, varied, and innovative quilts for decades and generations. Many artists of the Harlem Renaissance (including Lawrence, Bearden, and Johnson) looked to the African American quilt-making tradition and African art for study and inspiration, as well as contemporary European art movements.


The incredible composition and rhythm of their quilts inspired the design for the artwork in Muddy. If you look at the small color thumbnail pagination I made while planning the book (below), you can see the influence of the blocks of color of the Gee's Bend artists.

Color pagination of thumbnails for Muddy


I wanted the illustrations to show the journey of Muddy and his music from his roots in Mississippi, the electric explosion in Chicago, and his synthesis of the two. I showed this in a few ways:


One was in the newspaper collage. In sharecropper cabins, like the one Muddy grew up in in Clarksdale, Mississippi, they only had newspaper to wallpaper their walls. So I collaged newspapers from the local Clarksdale Daily Register from 1918 on the walls.

In progress collage

You can see what it looked like here before I painted on top of them. Here the headlines are mostly about small town things like the cost of cotton or stories about World War I.


When Muddy moves to Chicago, he is surrounded by the headlines of the Chicago Defender, a legendary black newspaper. Here the headlines are about African American triumph and struggle, and civil rights issues of the day. And once Muddy becomes famous, he finds himself among the headlines of African American heroes in the Chicago Defender.

Preliminary sketches for Muddy

I also used color and a style shift to signify Muddy's journey.

Final art scenes from Muddy in Mississippi

In Mississippi, Muddy is surrounded by warm, rich colors: the yellow, red, and brown of the earth and heat; the deep indigo of the Mississippi River; the yellowy green of crops; the black and white of the cotton fields; and the vibrant purple of his grandmother's dresses.

Final art scenes from Muddy in Chicago

But when he arrives in Chicago, he is surrounded by the clashing neon colors of the city. The green is no longer earthy, but slick and electric. The blue is not deep and powerful, but bright, cool, and modern. The bright red halo of Muddy's country roots makes him stand out among the city slickers.

But once Muddy begins to let his true self out in his music, everything begins to come together. There is the electricity and intensity of the city, but also the richness, and depth of the Mississippi River, the cotton fields, and the memory of his grandmother. Everything pieced together like a quilt.


 The illustrations themselves were pieced together like a quilt as well.


I drew out the composition, and then cut out each of the shapes to make stencils. Then I filled in the shapes thickly with oil pastel on top of a watercolor/gouache background. 


Then details and patterns were created by adding more oil pastel, or scraping it away with a palette knife to make textures and different effects.

Muddy learning the bottleneck slide from his hero, Son House

The whole progression of art throughout the book was to show how Muddy grew and changed with his music, but also how he always stayed true to himself.

 
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters will be released on September 5, 2017.
More information and pre-order links here:


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

100 Views of the Hudson River Valley



It's been a while since my last post, but I've been busy drawing! Since moving up to the Hudson River Valley, I've been somewhat compulsively making pastel paintings of our new surroundings.


It began with a few small thumbnails, and then grew, day by day from there.



It's amazing what living surrounded by nature allows you to notice.


And on the river, the changes happen minute by minute.

 


Sometimes it's hard to stop drawing because by the time one drawing is finished, there's another one waiting outside! This is a small selection of the pastel paintings over the past few months.




There's a freedom that comes with being able to observe the same general scene over and over. It allows for abstraction, naturalism, and exaggeration to come and go.


I'm looking forward to seeing where this new inspiration takes me.


And now that spring is finally here, everything changes once again!



To see more, follow me on Instagram: @evanturkart

Monday, February 6, 2017

"We see our movements in intersection!"



This Saturday I attended the LGBTQ Solidarity Rally at the Stonewall Inn in the West Village with a few friends to draw and show support. The event was originally organized in response to a pending executive order from the new White House administration that was said to dismantle anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the country. Trump ended up not signing this EO so the Rally morphed into a solidarity rally for all disenfranchised groups amidst the new Trump administration. People were not just going to sit back because the President decided *one* time not to illegally infringe upon a minority's rights.



This, I think was an even more powerful show of strength. People came together, not because they personally were under attack (although this one order not being signed should not be taken as an "all clear" for LGBTQ folks under any circumstances), but in support of those that are. The LGBTQ community knows what its like to be under attack.



I was heartened to see that, more than any other Pride event, rally, or march I've seen from the LGBTQ community, this one embraced the diversity of the community. Often, the gay movement tends to center on wealthy, white men. But there are gay Muslims, queer immigrants, trans Latina/o/x, queer black women, and all different combinations of identities that, because we are all threatened, have the opportunity to intersect.


The Muslim community and the LGBTQ community would seem to be, pardon the term, strange bedfellows. Trump himself has tried to co-opt the LGBTQ community by saying his exclusionary anti-Muslim policies will make gays safer in response to the Orlando PULSE shooting this summer. But I was so proud to see that this community would not be turned away from fellow Americans, and those striving to become Americans, in a time of need. Fear will not divide us. I was again heartened to hear speakers from various Muslim and immigrant community centers and organizations come to speak in front of Stonewall, a symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement.


The speeches began with Louis, an immigration lawyer, who was working to protect a Syrian refugee and green card-holder of 10 years who became separated from her family during the travel ban. He was once a refugee himself, from Ecuador, where he fled anti-gay persecution. He was a living embodiment of the intersections of all of our communities and how we are in this fight together.


We also heard from Oliver, a Nigerian refugee who fled because his position as a gay rights activist in Nigeria became unsafe. He spoke of how now was the time for him to roll up his sleeves and fight for freedom again. He implored the crowd to not just preach to the choir, but to speak to those who support Trump's policies. We heard from many supportive politicians, including the only openly gay member of the NY State Senate, Brad Hoylman. He is also Jewish, and found swastikas drawn on his apartment building after the election in November.



Ishalaa Ortega, the first of several trans speakers of color received resounding applause as she described herself as Mexican, Transgender, Refugee, and American and that "WE ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!". Corey Johnson, gay New York City Council member and an organizer of the event, spoke passionately about our need to push ourselves to keep fighting and to not become complacent.


Several speakers referenced the black and Latina trans pioneers of the LGBT movement in NYC, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and their immense bravery. Others referenced the ACT UP movement during the AIDS crisis and its slogan "SILENCE = DEATH", stating "WE WILL NOT BE SILENT!"



Each speaker gave their own personal story of why they were there. There was a gay man who was also Syrian, Lebanese, and Mexican: a melting pot of Trump's targets. Khalid Latif, of the NYU Islamic Center echoed the refrain that "An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us." Olympia Perez of the Audre Lorde Project, a trans woman who identified herself as Afro-Latinx, Dominican, Brazillian, Puerto Rican, and South Asian eloquently said "I cannot divide the pieces of me." And these two ideas became the common thread between all the various speakers. Whether black, gay, trans, Latinx, Native American, Asian, queer, white, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, rich, or poor, we cannot separate the pieces of ourselves and we cannot separate these pieces of our nation.

We are Americans because of our intersections, not in spite of them, and that is what will make our resistance powerful.

#artistsfordemocracy



Saturday, December 31, 2016

The last of 2016!


It's almost 2017 and this year has been quite a crazy one! Chris and I recently moved up to the Hudson Valley, so it's been a great period of adjustment getting used to the new house. With not quite as much time to draw, and no scanner hooked up until now, I decided to condense the last few months into one big finale for 2016!


This timeline also chronicles our slow descent into winter...These first drawings are from a lovely day of drawing with Audrey Hawkins back in September.



For the next couple months, each warm day felt like the last warm day we would ever have, so everyone, including me, was out trying to take advantage of the sunshine.



The city always feels so full on these warm days.


I loved this grouping of 2 mostly naked young people sunbathing next to a nun, all enjoying the park.


It still felt like summer until the sun went behind the buildings and everyone started putting their coats on over their sleeveless shirts.


A couple weeks later, as fall had begun to set in, Audrey, Chris and I had another nice day drawing out in Central Park.


The colors were beautiful, but the day not quite as luxurious as it had already started getting dark depressingly early.


Up in Croton-on-Hudson, I decided to grab a few hours on a warm day, in between renovating, to draw the new house before it got too cold. A huge and exciting project!


 In the Hudson Valley, summer was fading, but the fall leaves were just getting started.


It was so magical getting to see the leaves change and fall over the weeks, and watching how the light and colors changed.


Our friend and fellow artist Julia Sverchuk came up to visit and we went out to Fishkill Farm to enjoy a not-quite-so-warm fall day.




It was chilly, but people were still out and about, stretching their legs before the looming hibernation.


Chris and I went out for a brisk day up north drawing at Staatsburg State Historic Site, where we got married last June. The wind got a little intense on the river, so we made it a short day.


November brought the harrowing election (you can read more about my thoughts here) and less time drawing out in the cold.

And finally winter came with our first snow in the new house! The whole neighborhood looked like a Christmas card.


So now the year is almost over, and we have a strange new 2017 to anticipate. 2016 was definitely a year of change, but I am still hopeful for the new year.


Best wishes to all of you for the new year! See you in 2017!