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Creative Illustration Workshop for Mixed-Media Artists: Seeing, Sketching, Storytelling, and Using Found Materials Spiral-bound – November 1, 2010
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About the Author
Katherine Dunn lives in Oregon and writes a well-followed blog “Apifera Farm: where animals, art, and lavender collide.” In her fourth year, her blog was named a Blog of Note. She often creates a short story based on characters right outside her window, illustrates it, and posts it on the blog. Katherine’s illustrations have appeared in magazines, theater, and retail outlets. Her clients have included the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Target, Neiman Marcus, Charles Schwab, Utne Reader, and Hallmark. Her originals are shown in national galleries and are also showcased in Sundance Catalog and have been awarded in Communication Arts, Print, MNAIGA, 3x3 Magazine, and American Illustration. She recently was part of the Society of Illustrator show in NYC.
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I find the paintings themselves to be almost magical. There's a depth to Dunn's work that captures one's attention and holds it. The application of pastel drawing set against deeply-colored acrylic backgrounds conveys a sense of mystery. At the same time, there is a joyful exuberance in many of the pieces, which often combine human and animal subjects in a whimsical rapport, as in her piece, "New Year's Couple," which features a woman in a red cocktail dress raising her glass in a mutual toast with a very dapper-looking donkey.
I would have been happy enough with just a book of Dunn's artwork; the fact that this is a how-to book in which Dunn explicates her process is beyond fantastic. Other how-to books often focus on a step-by-step approach that can be helpful but is usually limited. What Dunn does here is completely different in that she walks the reader through her thought process as a piece progresses from one stage to another. We see a piece evolve from a few scribbled words and shapes she first makes as a note to herself on through to a completed composition. Along the way, Dunn shares plenty of techniques she has honed through the years, like boldly painting a deep background (which may very well be painted over) as a kind of "warm up" exercise to sidestep the intimidation that often accompanies a blank canvas. She discusses materials, and encourages one to be adventurous (even if it means it's not archival!--advice that is almost heretical in today's art how-to culture.)
I did read other reviews, and personally, I just don't understand how a reader could not be inspired by Dunn's discussion of illustration as a means of storytelling. I was very moved by Dunn's example of working through her feelings about her father's aging via painting. The book is full of examples that are at once specific (so you get to see how she did it) and yet have universal application (i.e. how take a memory, an object, a symbol, a story, or a dream and make it into a painting.) I think this is much more important--and much more difficult to convey--than simple step-by-step instructions on how to render a particular thing or texture.
I did find it interesting that several reviewers who were disappointed in the book mentioned that the contents didn't match the cover, and I do agree with them on that score. The cover has a kind of cut-out collage border that is very popular with some folks but really isn't much in evidence elsewhere in the book. The cover also has a light background and relatively spare composition compared to Dunn's usual deeply colored backgrounds and populated compositions. While readability of the title is of primary importance for a cover, the cover of an art/art how-to book really should reflect the aesthetic of the artist in order to both avoid the disappointment of some readers and to ensure that those who would be interested in the book are suitably attracted. For my part, I can say I'm glad I didn't judge this book by its cover. Had I done so, I would have missed the biggest reading--and learning--pleasure I've had this season.