Noilly Prattle: August 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Eighteen

Grades 4,5,6
Cartoon Drawing [MANGA]
Part 2

     The second day of the cartoon drawing project was devoted to coloring the images the kids had drawn in the previous class.

         Generally, all black lines including outlines of the various drawing elements and line elements in the background design, especially the straight lines frequently used radiating out to the edges of the paper as in the image on the right were executed with black felt tip markers.

         The actual colors were done with water color or poster color paint. Basically this project was an exercise in proportional drawing using a grid to enlarge a small image into a large one and a more sophisticated use of water based paints, especially in tinting and shading. These upper level elementary school students had rather full plates to digest.

          Tinting and shading (lighting and shadow) impart roundness and depth to an otherwise two-dimensional (flat) image. Of course, at this level of age and dexterity, only a rudimentary use of this technique is probable, except for an unusually gifted child (and some were). I would discuss and demonstrate how adding water or reducing it would lighten or darken the colors as in the graphic on the left.

         Basically it was up to the kids themselves what colors they chose to use since many of the original images were in black and white, but I encouraged them to experiment with tinting and shading to whatever extent they could manage it. With the older students I introduced the idea of using only one or two colors and using tinting and shading to obtain more depth and form in their pictures.

         This was, admittedly, a pretty sophisticated and challenging project, but I was surprised at how enthusiastically and energetically most of the kids managed to create some really nice pictures.

Full Color 


Two Colors

Friday, August 23, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Seventeen

Grades 4,5,6
Cartoon Drawing [MANGA]
Part 1

Manga [comic books]
     Japanese comic books, known as MANGA (which are nothing like their American cousins) are immensely popular with adults as well as kids. They are also gaining international readers as their popularity spills out beyond Japan's island borders.

typical manga bookshelf
        Just about every child (unless he comes from some other planet) in Japan will have a large collection of the colorful, seductive comic books. I know this because my own son had shelves and shelves of them in his room; many of them still remain and serve as room decoration in what is now my study.

girls' comics
        Young people in Japan, especially the girls are not only addicted to reading them, but not a small number are avid illustrators of their favorite characters as well. I, always in the market for interesting ideas for art lessons, decided to capitalize on this ready made enthusiasm for comics, by developing some lessons built around the world of manga and reversing the drawing process. The cartoon artist draws his or her panels and then reduces them to fit the story format in the comic book. For this lesson, I took panels from the comic book and blew them up to normal drawing size by using a grid ratio (see below) to help students expand the small cartoon image into a full size drawing.

popular manga title
        Of course, the stuffier school authorities frown on students having comic books in school. They are supposed to be immersed in “serious literature”. But what child can resist breaking the school rules—that's what they're made for, after all. So, I, being neither naïve nor stuffy, knew and didn't particularly care that they all had manga in their school bags. On the contrary, I depended on it when I started putting manga drawing lessons into my art curriculum.

about the right complexity for an average student
         The technique was fairly simple. I told the kids to bring their manga to class and we would use them to draw a picture of their favorite characters and/or scenes from the stories. I had a few sample pictures that I had done previously to illustrate the technique as I discussed it with them. First I told them to go through the comic book and look for images that they would like to draw. I cautioned them to think about the complexity of the image and choose one that would have a fairly detailed image of a character and enough background detail so as not to be too busy and difficult to draw and not too spare as to be too empty [we call it sabishii 'lonely' in Japanese] and/or uninteresting but deceptively "easy" to draw. The kids had to clear the chosen image with me to ensure that they would be able to handle it. I even pointedly asked them if they had confidence that they could handle an image I had doubts about. I would then gauge the body language and facial expression of the child's answer.  If he/she didn't hesitate I would OK the choice. If not, it was back to the drawing board until they could choose an acceptable image. After approving their choice I handed them a large sheet of white drawing paper.

too simple and uninteresting
too complex and detailed for most kids

        I explained and demonstrated the use of a simple line grid and told them to divide the small image into quarters with a pencil that could be erased afterward. (Many hated to deface their beloved manga books.) Next I told them to do the same thing with the large drawing paper—divide it into quarters. Then it was a matter of looking carefully at the small image and, using the guidelines for placement, enlarge the original image onto the large sheet of paper. The results, of course, depending on the skill of the individual, were varied, but most were able to reproduce an acceptable semblance (with allowance for creativity and whimsicality) of the original image. When the drawing was finished and approved by me, I had the kids trace the entire image in black felt tip marker to imitate the black line effect of the comic book. That concluded to first day of this lesson. An extra day could be added if necessary.

original [top right] and completed drawing showing the guidelines

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Sixteen

Grades 5 and 6
Zentangles and Mandalas

a zentangle
Noah's zentangle
    Recently a social networking friend of mine posted some drawings done by her grandson. The young fellow seems to be showing some talent and creativity. One of the pictures she posted was of something called a “Zentangle” (reproduced, on the left), something I hadn't heard of before—or at least so I thought. 

fantasy design
         At her suggestion I Googled “zentangle” and found that it used pattern designs to fill in the picture elements instead of solid colors, and that I had used this concept, unbeknownst to me that it had a name, with my 6th Grade classes. I used the technique and just called it an "abstract pattern design". I realized that I had used the same technique in another project called ”fantasy design” with the 5th Grade classes. The objective was to get the kids away from the same old, same old boring straightforward coloring à la your standard coloring book and look at different and interesting ways to fill in design elements.

monks making a mandala
Navajo sand painting
        Then I noticed the “zen” (as in Zen Buddhism) part of the word zentangle and that reminded me of the mandalas that are designed by Tibetan Buddhist monks, as well as Navajo sand paintings both of which have symbolic and spiritual connotations. My main interest in them, however, wasn't spiritual, but in their abstract design and how I might be able to adapt the concept to a classroom project for older kids.

        I decided to use an ever popular motif with children, namely animals. I prepared about a half dozen different animals shapes in outline only (such as the gorilla below) and cut them out for use as templates. The students were free to choose any one of the shapes, or, if they were really adventurous, to design their own, which a few did. Then they simply had to trace the shape on white drawing paper in black magic marker. I then instructed them to divide up the animal outline into variously shaped sections at their own discretion.

elephant outline, divided with a couple sections
filled in with repetitive patterns
        I would then discuss and demonstrate on the whiteboard how to fill in the shapes with different repetitive patterns in black and white pencil only. Some possibilities were basic shapes like squares, circles, triangles, stars, etc. Others were lines of different kinds: straight, curved, dotted, etc. Combinations of shapes and lines could also be used in and endless variety of design possibilities. When the design fill was finished I had the kids outline the shape with the flat tips of three colored markers and write the name of the animal in fat letters and fill them in with designs similar to the main drawing.

        The main challenge was in persevering and not getting bored and sidetracked to the point of rushing to finish and ending up with hash. Not a few would get trapped into just that frame of mind, but the ones who were able to persevere turned out some very interesting works of, dare I say, Art!

abstract pattern design...but, is it a zentangle?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Fifteen

Grade 5

eye exaggeration in joshi manga
so-called costume play,
girl with manga eye makeup
      Exaggeration is a technique used by cartoon and comic book artists and caricaturists to highlight certain elements of a drawing to make them stand out for different effects. This technique is used to excess in Japanese “joshi manga” (girls comic books), which are enormously popular with elementary school aged girls, in the treatment of the eyes of the characters. Many aspiring young lady cartoonists can spend hours drawing pictures of girls featuring these eyes. So, without knowing it, many of my students were already familiar with the exaggeration technique.

       Boys are also comic book addicts here in Japan and their favorite comics also use exaggeration in gestures and facial expressions. Although some boys try to draw cartoon characters, they are not as numerous as the girls, who, by and large, tend to be more artistically oriented than the boys at the elementary school age. So, I decided they could all benefit from a lesson in doing exaggerated drawings and most could handle the skill necessary to pull them off.

       Exaggeration is accomplished mostly by contrasting one element of a drawing with another, often by size distortion. For example, you could draw a man with extremely large hands holding a small globe [Atlas holding the world in his hands] as in the Getty image on the left. This image is also an example of foreshortening to bring the hands to the front of the picture plane, another technique of exaggeration.

       To set up the mindset for this project I would have the kids bring their comic books and talk about the techniques the artists used along with some examples of my own. I also set up a model that showed in 3-D exactly how the size contrasting technique works. I had an inflatable model of an All Nippon Airlines (ANA) [All Japan Airlines] jet plane in my Prep. Room. I arranged it with with an umbrella to give the appearance of a jet taking off and crashing into a gigantic umbrella—exaggeration galore. The kids were easily able to grasp the idea; then I left them free to try a drawing on their own using their comic books as a guide, or the model of the airplane and umbrella or just using their own imaginations.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Making Do . . .

. . . Living on the Sidelines

     We seem to forget what creatures of comfort we've become in that blip of history known as the latter half of the 20th Century--an eyeblink in the vast panorama of time on this planet when we thought we could have it all, consumer goods on credit without end--and the bill would never come due. Amen! My parents Great Depression generation would have scoffed at such a free lunch notion. And now, here we are, in the 21st Century of apparent regression to an older, perhaps more common, mode of existence—doing with less.

       Here's one story I heard about recently.

our first house in Kurashiki, Japan, circa 1984
       This is another story that awes me and I have a great deal of admiration for the young woman in question. She is around 30-years old, has a 2-year-old boy and lives in an old Japanese style house in an area of Tokyo—much like the old house we used to live in in Kurashiki back in the 1980s when we were first married.

       But there all similarities end.

       This woman's electricity bill comes to only 500 yen/month (about $5). For comparison's sake, our electric bill minimum is around 2000 yen/month ($20), and that's when we are away. In the summer, with air conditioning, it comes to around 8000 yen/month ($80) and it usually averages around 5000 yen/month ($50) when we are living here.

       So, how does she do it?

       I can remember when my family lived in a cold-water tenement without central heating back in the 1950s United States. I can also remember, at that time, when we had no TV, only a radio with The Shadow and The Creaking Door to listen to, an old- fashioned washing machine with a roller-type wringer that my mother once got her long hair caught in, briefly, before having the presence of mind to release the safety lever, and the iceman cameth regularly to resupply the ice box. The electricity bill was pretty much kept to a minimum in those days.

       Fast forward to the present. Our previously mentioned young woman has no refrigerator or washing machine (and, I assume, no ice box either since they don't make them anymore). Besides, even if there were an iceman, she probably couldn't afford the ice. But, not having a fridge is no problem, she states, since she goes shopping nearby regularly for the simple vegetables and other ingredients she needs and doesn't require refrigeration.

       Owning no washing machine or dryer and not having enough money to go to a laundromat, she washes clothes like grandmother did, by hand in a wash tub and scrubbing board (the corrugated kind used in jug bands). Using all the resources at her disposal, her 2-year-old son happily agitates the clothes by stomping around on them and splashing in the tub and having a wonderful time doing it.

       She does have electricity, of course, hence the 500 yen/month electricity bill. How does she keep it so low? Obviously, having no electric appliances, no TV, no computer, etc., saves a lot on the bill. But, to further pinch the yen, she has only three light bulbs that she moves around from room to room as needed. Is this woman wretched and depressed and wailing about the cruel fate that has reduced her to this penury? Nope! She comes across as a very positive person on the TV program that featured her story, saying that her grandmother lived pretty much the same way after the war and taught her how to live.

       She's no fool either. She states, firmly, that she is living an eco-friendly life style.

       My hat's off to her.


       If you got this far, here are a few statistics:

       Here in Japan now, one in four men [25%] live on less than 100,000 yen/month (less than $1000/month), and one in three women [33%] do so, as well. That's as much as the rent for a decent small apartment. We, who are conditioned to the consumer ethos of the last century, simply scratch our heads and wonder how these people manage to survive!

        The story is similar in the US and the United Kingdom.

[Click to see]

One in Four Americans [25%] Say They Are Poor

More than Half of UK adults 'living on the financial edge'

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Hero

     A 96-year-old gentleman walking with a cane and carrying a bag full of money was picked up by the police at the Nagoya Airport recently. The story is true, funny and inspirational because it shows that one is never too old.

      It seems the old gentleman had a domestic disagreement with his 87-year-old wife—in more blatant terms he and the old lady had a fight. That they actually had a fight at that age shows a certain feisty spirit on both their parts. The kind of spirit that may have been conducive to the fact that they have been married probably for some 70 years give or take since people married much younger in those days.

      Many a couple, I am quite sure, have had their “I'm-out-of-here!” moments and stormed out of the house in a huff and a snit. Yours truly included. But, good lord!, at 96? I stand awed in admiration and can only hope that there, thanks to fortune, will go I. Not so much the fight, but the spunk to do something about an uncomfortable situation and make a change. A long drive in the country, for example, can give you the space and time to cool off—for both. Then the issue can be dealt with more rationally and calmly with more listening and less shouting and scoring points.

      But our 96-year-old went far beyond a mere drive in the country for a few hours. He decided to start a new life if you please, or even if you don't please. He walked out of the house, with the assistance of the cane, of course, with a traveling bag, went to his bank and withdrew 28,000,000 yen in cash and stuffed it into the bag.

      He had traveled to Okinawa in the past and thought he liked it there. (It's a little like going to Miami Beach.) He bought an airline ticket to Okinawa with the intention of setting up a new life there. Remember, this is a 96-year-old using a cane, with the presence of mind to get to the airport, buy a ticket, check in and go through immigration and security while carrying a bag containing 28 million yen (nearly $300,000), board the plane and get a hotel in Okinawa. (I wonder how Airport Security didn't pick up that much money, it must show up on the X-ray even though it wouldn't set off the metal detector.) 

      Meanwhile, I suppose, his wife filed a missing persons report with the police.

      After a several days stay in Okinawa, the old boy decided he didn't like Okinawa enough to live there after all, so he bought a ticket back to Nagoya with the intention of going to Kyushu and trying his luck with resettling down there. But, when he deplaned in Nagoya he was met by the police who picked him up and escorted him back to his loving (one would hope) wife. Hopefully their reunion was one of welcome home and not more recriminations.

      I'm an optimist and opt for the welcome home scenario. I like to think the old boy thought the old girl isn't so bad after all if she can still care enough to fight with me. And maybe the old girl thought, well, this old guy still has some spunk left in him. Maybe they will look at each other with newly opened eyes and think, hey, things could be worse! 

      But, then, I'm an incurable optimist. And I like it that way.