Whale art by Sarah Dennis, Amy Ruppel and Blaire Fontana, and Mark Brooks.
Whales hold a mystique in their alien familiarity that in the last fifty years drove campaigns to “save the whales” but in the past conflicted whalers. Behemoths from a world hostile to man, we know little of their lives. Majestic creatures that seem to dance as they erupt from the water, some species “sing” to each other in a language that eludes yet captivates us. Intelligent and curious animals, the brains of some whale species have spindle neurons similar to those in humans that control judgment, social behavior, and emotions. Many whale species live in pods and have strong family ties. Far-ranging nomads, whales migrate with the seasons. As recently as 2007, a 19th-century lance was found in a living whale, evincing their long lifespans.
Artists turn their wonder from whales into metaphoric and symbolic works that pulse with energy and emotion. Graffitti artist DALeast and Mark Brooks use energetic ribbons and paint spatters to portray the whales’ figures. Daniel Danger, Emek, DALeast, and Jens Harder capture the emotional power of a whale breaching from the sea. Sarah Dennis reminds us of their stately calm, while Barry Moser and Dan McCarthy draw from the battle for survival, showing their strength and scars. Enjoy ten pieces of whale art by nine artists.
Comic artists must take a different approach than traditional artists to portraying the Pacific Northwest outdoors, since the landscape becomes their setting rather than their subject. The landscape needs to complement, not hinder, the action. Comics are also produced on a fast schedule, so artists are forced to produce pages relatively quickly, giving them an incentive to simplify backgrounds.
The same thing that makes Cascadia so beautiful also makes it challenging to illustrate – the forests are often dense, the understory flush with shrubs and groundcover. Open meadows are uncommon; when the forest looks open, it’s generally a stand of douglas firs with sword ferns or thick moss beneath. Cutting cross-country can be difficult if you don’t find a deer trail to follow.
I looked at three comics set in the Pacific Northwest to compare their depictions of the forest – Black Hole by Charles Burns, Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler, and Fables 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha.
It’s easy to get sucked down the ‘rabbit hole of inspiration’, as Bri and Katie of Designlovefest note, gathering more and more inspiring examples and never making anything of our own.
I have mixed feelings about seeking inspiration.
On one hand, I worry that I’m taking in too much content, losing my originality in the onslaught of media I digest every day. Last month, I put myself on a mild media diet, slimming down my RSS feed to a few essentials. I find myself missing that easy dose of inspiration, and desperately looking for something to read or look at I’m addicted to junk food for the brain.
On the other hand, how can we create without responding to something? Creations are our interpretations and commentary on the world. No one works in absolute isolation. There is no escaping the influence, positive, negative, or neutral, of your environment and your community. Our thoughts are guided and shaped by what we experience and what we need to respond to.
And yet, we need not respond to another person’s creation. There are different types of inspiration.
Just like there are primary and secondary historical sources, there are primary and secondary sources of inspiration.
In honor of Easter, this month’s art roundup features rabbits, interpreted by nine contemporary artists. Several species of cottontails, rabbits, hares, and jackrabbits — both native and introduced — live in the northwest. The pieces seem to be united with a palette of creams, gray blues, pinks, and grays. Some are expressive, others aloof or frozen as they watch the viewer.
Find inspiration outside.