Andy, John, and the Doctor

I got to thinking about iconic images. What are they? What do they mean? What makes them iconic? If we look up the definition we find that iconic is  a: “widely recognized and well-established” and b: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence” (Merriam-Webster Online). According to my 1951 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, iconic means: “Relating to or resembling an icon or an image of any kind…” There is no inference of quality in the older definition.

Do a Google image search of “iconic art” and you will find a fascinating collection of work, much of it derivative. Andy Warhol is well represented, but there may be more interpretations than actual Warhols. The Girl With the Pearl Earring seems to have surpassed the Mona Lisa, and yet you have to scroll more than half way down the initial set of images before you find the Vermeer painting by itself, rather than as a comparison to someone else’s take on it. This is just the internet at work. A closer look at the sources of the top hits shows effective search engine optimization, not necessarily great art. We have accepted this kind of search from an algorithm where in the past it would have been conducted by art directors or curators.

It's Much Bigger On The Inside

It’s Much Bigger On The Inside

St. John

St. John

Ode to Andy

Ode to Andy

So what do I post today? Why three derivative works, of course. But if I was going to look at iconic imagery from the present to the distant (and not so distant) past, then I had to use these images.

The blue police box will be recognizable to many as the T.A.R.D.I.S. from the long running Dr. Who TV series. The series itself has achieved iconic status, at least in my mind, and I don’t consider myself a real fan. If I had not done the T.A.R.D.I.S., my geeky family would have disowned me.

St. John is indeed a portrait of St. John the Evangelist. The basis of the art is St. John’s portrait in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Irish manuscript from the 9th century. Follow this link to the Trinity College web site and scroll down to folio 291v. You can zoom in on the portrait and compare it to mine. And what’s with the high contrast and bright colors in my version? It’s from the 1967 portrait of John Lennon by Richard Avedon. Two iconic images in one.

Nothing says ‘iconic image’ to me more than Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. This work helped to define the pop-art movement which is, as I see it, the foundation of pop-culture today. And it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to compare it to the results of my Google image search. If Andy Warhol were still alive, might he not pose a Barbie doll to look like a Vermeer painting?

What are we doing? We take ordinary, everyday objects and change them in ways that make us look at them (and ourselves) differently. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?


How It All Started

Sometime in mid-May I was doodling in my sketchbook, trying to come up with some ideas for the  30×30 challenge and I drew this girl drawing on her tablet and listening to her i-pod. It got me to thinking about “i-culture”, the seeming need to be plugged in to technology, constantly in contact with the internet. It’s a very different paradigm than the one I grew up with. There are aspects of it I embrace. There are parts I think are detrimental to society. But my way of working is not entirely relevant to the modern world. I must adapt to the new technologies and the modes of thought that go along with them.

i-knot: Student Edition

i-knot: Student Edition


The key word for me here is ‘adapt’. To adapt is not necessarily to conform. I will continue to paint with watercolor on paper, even grind my own pigments, but I will also continue to expand my working knowledge of Photoshop as a valuable artist’s tool and social media that can help bring my work to a broader audience. I am a dinosaur that chooses to grow fur. But I digress.

I called this series ‘i-knot’ for what I hope are obvious reasons. I don’t mind poking fun at institutions or fads (or nearly anything else) but I also want to see the good wherever I can. Even in what I’m poking fun at. So my character, while all tangled up in her technology, still has a smile on her lips and is creating art on her tablet.

It’s not my way of doing things, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

The Glories of Antiquated Technology

As the result of a fabulous consultation with Lucy Ruth Cummins of Simon & Schuster last April, I have been, oh so slowly, coming up with more black and white samples aimed at interior illustration for children’s books. Not picture books, as those are usually in full color, but middle-grade to young adult novels. Ms. Cummins also suggested that I concentrate on animals. No problem, says I, and off I went to create new, amazing samples in glorious black and white.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The first scan @ 600 dpi on the HP. This probably has not had any tweaking in Photoshop.

In my first few posts I made mention of the difficulty of scanning black colored pencil. My scanner (an HP Photosmart All-in-One thingy) simply refused to see the lighter grays, so a lot of the subtlety of my drawings got blown out. My wife’s scanner is a newer version of mine and even though it can see more gray tones, it still knocks out the lighter stuff. And to make matters worse, my art work is often on paper larger than 8.5×11. Look at your scanner. See how the glass is lower than frame? Imagine trying to get a good scan from a 9×12 piece of stiff watercolor paper.

Now the solution to all of this is very simple. Get a good, legal sized, flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, my budget will not allow that.

So what’s a boy to do? Call on his geeky friends.

That’s what.

One such friend of mine used to run a large format digital print shop. When I told him of my problem, he said “I probably can’t help you. The scanner I’ve got has a SCSI cable. It won’t hook up to your new machine.”

Ah, but I have an old G4 Macintosh that I was thinking of scrapping. Not any more. The new (old) scanner was easy to install. The AGFA website still had downloadable drivers and manuals. In minutes I was up and running. And the results? Holy dpi, Batman! That thing works! And it’s flat. I’ve draped 12×14 art work over that thing and stitched it up in Photoshop. No problem.

The scan on the left is from the HP scanner at 600 dpi. I think I went back into the original art and darkened things up and boosted the contrast in Photoshop. The one on the right is from the AGFA scanner. It’s a 16 bit file at 450 dpi. It is HUGE. I don’t remember if I bumped the contrast on this one or not.

A close-up from the second HP scan. Note all the blown out white areas.

The same close-up from the AGFA scan. Hopefully you can see some sketchy lines in the light area under his jaw line. That’s my under drawing. My original layout scribbles.

I’m sure there are scanners out there now that will hold this kind of detail, and there’s no way I could have afforded the AGFA when it was new. But that can’t stop me from singing the praises of a piece of antiquated technology that not only works, but rocks.